Food preparation is getting your meal ready for a particular purpose and ensuring that the food is safe to eat. It involves a wide range of techniques, tools, and a combination of ingredients to improve the taste or digestibility of your food. So let’s dig in and get to grips with the essentials.
What is the importance of food preparation?
It’s essential to prepare food safely to prevent harmful bacteria from spreading and multiplying. Follow these six tips to protect yourself and reduce the spread of bacteria that can be harmful.
1. Wash your hands for at least twenty seconds
The hands can quickly distribute bacteria in the kitchen and onto your food. It’s essential to wash your hands with soap and warm water thoroughly:
• before preparing food
• straight after handling raw products such as poultry and meats
• after using the toilet
• after handling the bin
• after handling pets
It is worth mentioning that you should be vigilant in how you dry your hands as wet hands spread bacteria much more quickly.
2. Keep kitchen work surfaces clean
Before preparing food, it’s crucial work surfaces, kitchen utensils, and chopping boards are thoroughly clean. If they’ve been in contact with poultry, raw meat, vegetables or eggs, you’ll need to wash them thoroughly.
Regularly change your dishcloths and dish towels to avoid any bacterial growth on them.
3. Separate raw food from cooked or ready to eat food
Raw foods including meat, poultry, fish and vegetables can contain harmful bacteria that may spread quickly by touching other foods, surfaces, chopping boards and even knives.
Keeping raw foods away from ready-to-eat food is crucial as ready to eat food won’t be cooked before you consume them, so any bacteria that gets on the food will remain as is and not be destroyed by cooking.
- Use individual chopping boards and plates for poultry, uncooked meat and seafood.
- When food shopping, keep uncooked meat, seafood, poultry and juices away from other items.
- Keep uncooked meat, seafood, poultry, and eggs away from all other foods in the refrigerator.
3. Check the label
It’s vital to read food labels to ensure everything you’re going to consume has been stored correctly (according to any storage instructions) and that it is not past its expiry.
Foods that expire quickly usually have advice on the label that states how long the food is good for and whether it needs to go in the fridge. This type of food typically has special packaging to help keep it fresh for longer. But it usually will go off quickly once you’ve opened it. The label will also tell you how long the food will keep once the packaging has been opened. For example, you might see ‘eat within three days of opening’ on the label.
Use by dates
Very often, you will see use-by dates on foods that expire quickly. Do not use any food after the ‘use by date even if the food appears and smells fine, because it may contain harmful bacteria.
Best before dates
The best before dates marked on most food labels are about quality rather than safety. When this date expires, it doesn’t mean that the food will be dangerous, but its colour, texture or flavour might begin to decline.
An exception to this is eggs. Eggs have a best before the date of no more than 28 days after the hen has laid them. After this date, the safety of the egg will deteriorate, and any potential salmonella bacteria present could grow to high levels and make you seriously unwell.
If you intend to eat an egg after its best before date, ensure that you only use it in recipes where you thoroughly cook it so that both yolk and white are solid.
Cook to the right temperature
• Food is deemed safe when the temperature internally gets high enough to destroy the bacteria that can cause illness. The only way to ascertain if food is safely cooked is to use a suitable thermometer for food. You cannot tell if your food is cooked safely by observing its colour or texture.
• Use a food thermometer to ensure foods are done to a safe internal temperature. Check this link for safe minimum cooking temperatures for a variety of foods.
Now that we have safety covered, let us look at one of the most common food preparation methods, meal prepping. Meal prepping is typically either batch cooking or preparing individually portioned meals ahead of time. It is also worth saying that you can prepare prepped ingredients, such as preparing vegetables by chopping, peeling or slicing or roasting ahead of time.
Meal prepping ideas for beginners
- Buy reusable, airtight food storage containers that will allow your prepped ingredients or meals to stay fresh for much longer, and they will also improve the taste by locking bacteria and odours out. If on a budget, you can start with plastic containers that are carcinogenic BPA free that is approved for the microwave dishwasher and freezer. When your budget allows, you can move on to pyrex dishes. Google search for meal prepping food storage, and you can shop for what your budget allows.
- Download a meal prepping app to help you keep your meal prepping organized and ensure shopping and cooking are dead easy by getting recipes and grocery lists curated for you. Here are some apps you may like:
Anylist– This app allows you to save and organize your recipes and quickly add recipes from other sources, like top websites and blogs. It is free for iOS or Android.
- Yummly– With this app, you can meal prep based on specific diets and meal preferences. You can curate your favourite recipes and organize your shopping lists, with optional grocery delivery to your door. The app even provides personalized recipe recommendations. Get it on iOS and Android.
- Schedule time for meal prep- schedule one or two days per week to prep your food and find what works best.
Try making just one meal ahead of time, then prepare different dishes when you get comfortable. Ensure you consume a balance of the right food groups to fill out your macros. A balanced meal for keto and other low-carb diets should feature quality fats, some protein and very few carbohydrates.
- Refrigerate quickly- Bacteria can rapidly multiply if left at room temperature or temperatures (between 40°F and 140°F). Never leave food that can perish rapidly lying out for more than two hours (or one hour if its temperature is more significant than 90°F).
•Keep your fridge at 40°F or below and use FDA guidelines for when to dispose of
•Defrost frozen food in the fridge, microwave or water that is cold. Never defrost foods on the kitchen worktop, as bacteria can rapidly multiply in the areas of the food that reach room temperature first.
- Use the FDA guidelines to ascertain how long your prepped food will last. There are no hard-set rules for the time it will keep, and it will also depend on your fridge/freezer, how you packed it, and the ingredients’ quality.
The Best Foods for Meal prepping
- Frozen vegetables
- Starchy vegetables
- Stiff fresh vegetables
- Lean proteins
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole fruits
In the USA, home cooking is increasing, especially among men, though women still cook much more than men. So now you have all the necessary info and suggested tools to get out there and start getting your food preparation down to a fine art.