My grandmother Toriello, or Grandma “T” as she was affectionately called in our family, was a master in the kitchen. After a ten hour trip in the car with four kids elbow to elbow all the way, our endurance was always rewarded with homemade pizza at Grandma’s house. In fact, Grandma T knew that morning breakfast would be a breeze — all she had to do was put out the cold pans of pizza and we were in business. Watching my grandmother make bread was like watching a skilled artisan sculpt a masterpiece. She had beautiful, long, graceful fingers and knew exactly how to kneed the dough into moist rolls, chewy breadsticks and crusty loaves. Over the years, I’ve attempted to embrace my culinary skills with more tragedies than triumphs. Thank goodness for gadgets — the dough hook on my mixer is now my new best friend! Cooking from scratch may be a lost art for some of us, but it can be our best ally when it comes to maintaining great health.
Beside’s Grandma’s pizzas, one of the other great advantages I had growing up was our family garden. We ate fresh peas, beans, lettuce, tomatoes and green onions all summer. In the fall we enjoyed carrots and an abundance of squash and zucchini. Unfortunately, my Maine woods backyard is the property of the local deer, fox, turkey and other assorted critters which makes it nearly impossible to grow produce for personal consumption!
Relying on the local grocery store these days is proving to be equally challenging as there seems to be a decided trend towards foreign imports. If you’ve checked the food origins in the produce aisle you may notice many fruits and vegetables from beyond our borders. Asparagus from Peru, snap peas from Mexico, and even garlic from China. While the FDA does have importation standards in place and states that “importers..are responsible for ensuring that the products are safe, sanitary and labels according to U.S. requirements,” they don’t have the authority to “approve or certify individual food importers, products, labels or shipments.” (Source: FDA.gov) According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), this year, one in six people will get sick from contaminated food whether from U.S. or foreign sources. That means that our personal food safety is in our hands. Here are five steps you can take to keep a safer kitchen courtesy of the World Health Organization:
- Keep clean — wash your hands before & during food preparation especially after handling raw meats. Be sure to clean and sanitize working surfaces like cutting boards and utensils.
- Separate raw & cooked — raw meats, poultry, fish and eggs should always be kept separate from cooked foods. Avoid cross contamination by using separate knives, tongs and cutting boards for raw foods. Ditch the juices from raw food packages.
- Cook thoroughly — get some simple, inexpensive meat, poultry and pork thermometers to ensure foods are cooked completely at temperatures that will kill off harmful microorganisms.
- Safe Temperatures — check your refrigerator temperature. It should maintain a temperature of 40°F or below. Never thaw foods at room temperature — always thaw in the refrigerator. The danger zone for foods is 41 — 140°F so be sure not to leave leftovers out. Refrigerate cooked foods even if they are still warm or hot.
- Safe water & raw materials — get your water tested regularly when using tap water. Always wash fruits and vegetables especially if you are going to eat them raw. Pitch any foods past their expiration date. It’s not worth the risk. When traveling, avoid ice as it can also be a source of contamination and opt for bottled water or sparkling water from a sealed bottle.
Whenever possible, we opt to cook at home. We can control our ingredients and ensure safer cooking methods. I also do my best to shop for locally grown produce, meats, poultry, seafood and dairy. Close to home sources are typically handled less often, harvested fresher, and minimally processed as they don’t need to survive miles and miles of shipping across the country or even around the world. Your grocer should be able to provide you with countries of origin. When in doubt, keep it out of your shopping cart. For example, I love snap peas. They make a convenient and healthy snack. Unfortunately, this time of year I can’t find a U.S. producer so I’ve opted for green beans instead. I’ve also just learned how to make homemade crackers. It’s incredibly easy and by making them from scratch we avoid any preservatives or other undesirable ingredients like trans-fats and high fructose corn syrup just to name a few.
I will admit that my family has born the brunt of my culinary catastrophes from hockey pucks that were supposed to be dinner rolls to some sort of flat saucer shaped disks that were my foray into sugar free, flour free cookies. I have since learned to leave the cookie recipes alone! Life was always meant to be an adventure and the kitchen is a great place to start. A little planning and a fun attitude will go a long way toward safer and healthier meals for you and your family.
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“I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.”
Copyright © 2013 by Christine A.Toriello, all rights reserved.