Disclaimer: Please use common sense in applying anything you read here!
In the (European) country where I live in we have a lot of cooking shows on television, and I never cease to be both shocked and amazed at seeing (some – thank God not all) professional chefs taste their exquisite creation with a spoon and then put that spoon straight back into the pot. So, if anyone feels offended by my stating the obvious below, please don´t take it personally. For preppers/ survivalists/ people who want to be self sufficient there are of course a host of reasons to take more care of health and hygiene than a well-paid television chef, since hospitalizing all your family for food poisoning is hardly an option, especially in case the Schumer has already has ”Hit The Fan.” This article also was inspired by a debate in a prepper /survivalist forum on the dangers of reheating food.
First of all: obsessing with hygiene can be taken too far – as exemplified by the fact that “normal” exposure to dirt and germs stimulates the immune system, and that incessant hand washing can be a sign of severe psychological trauma. So that being said, we are talking “hygiene to keep you and your family healthy, not paranoid about cleanliness” here.
Some general food safety tips:
- Put food that needs cool storage back immediately, and cool leftovers down as fast as possible! Milk warms up one degree Celsius/ two degrees Fahrenheit per minute at room temperature. Fast cooling minimizes germ growth.
- Heat food fast! Germs and yeasts multiply at an alarming rate if you let a pot heat up on low setting (or if you allow it to cool down slowly). Exceptions are if you work sterile, i.e. canning or decoctions.
- Never reheat mushroom dishes, if possible also avoid reheating fish.
- Ditto for spinach and rhubarb dishes, the oxalic acid somehow doesn´t like reheating.
- Never feed spinach or rhubarb to babies and animals because of the oxalic acid.
- A pinch of sugar (or maybe a tiny speck of stevia) in salty food (i.e. sauces) and a pinch of salt in sweet dishes (or bread) makes food taste better, BUT: keep salt levels very low for baby food.
- Moderation is important, it is possible to die from carrot (or rather carrot juice) poisoning, but too little vitamin A and your eyesight (especially night vision) suffers. For the same reason also never eat (or feed your dogs) Polar Bear liver if you get the chance, the effects I don´t even want to write about.
- Nowadays, if you eat meat, at least stay away from liver in general since poisons land there. (And foie gras is most often a product of animal cruelty, so stay away from that too).
- Meats and fish often carry parasites and diseases (not to mention if raw or undercooked) and can be difficult to store, whereas nuts and seeds on their own, and pulses (beans, peas, lentils) in combination with grains have roughly the same percentage of protein as meat; so also for food safety reasons consider going vegetarian or vegan.
- Humans and guinea pigs are the only mammals that do not produce vitamin C on their own, so feed yourself and your guinea pigs a steady (daily) supply of pine needles, rose hips, sweet peppers, bell peppers or citrus juices. (The last: pure for you, mixed in water for your guinea pigs).
(As a vegetarian I of course do not recommend eating your guinea pigs, but they are very useful as well as friendly animals: Their social squeaking is said to keep rats away, they will mow and fertilize your lawn, and the long haired ones have useful fur that is similar to angora rabbits, although longer and thicker:)
If you reheat leftovers, use a clean pot (i.e. not the one you stored the food in overnight), cut everything into small pieces – minimum thumb thick if possible, and use a wooden ladle to move things around to get all parts of the food up to temperature FAST.
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Aluminum pots are an absolute NO-NO –especially for acid foods. If you only have aluminum pots, please exchange these as soon as possible, same with Teflon coated frying pans.
The old Romans apparently went crazy from lead poisoning via their water pipes and face make up; the Mad Hatter was mad like many members of his trade in Alice´s time because of the mercury used to cure the felt for top hats. [Except in remote regions], today´s water supply contains antibiotics and hormones (i.e. from industrial meat and milk production), so at least avoiding adding to this load seems like a very good idea.
At our home we use stainless steel pots but we use just wooden spoons in them, to avoid scratching metal particles into our food. Ceramic glass pots are very good for metal free cooking, but on the other hand, if you break one of these you have zillions of very dangerous and needle sharp glass shards to handle plus wasted food plus tons of work with wads of wet paper plus vacuum cleaning until every single glass needle is taken care of. After one such accident we now move our one remaining ceramic glass pot with ultra extreme care and put it on a thick piece of wood or fabric when hot to avoid temperature shock breakage. Another drawback of the ceramic glass pots is that germs seem to reproduce at an alarming rate in there when cooling, rendering these pots useless for storing food in. Probably old fashioned cast iron or even earthenware pots are best for everything, if you can get them. But: avoid red, orange or yellow glazes in pots (nineteen-seventies craze) since these colors contain cadmium, another metal you want to keep out of your body. Pure cast iron pots should be okay even if rusting, (especially for vegetarians since they do not get iron from blood and meat) but if you own enameled iron pots, please stop using them for food if the enamel is cracked, certainly if chips are breaking off, since eating these enamel pieces more or less equals eating glass.
One metal that seems to be helpful against germs and for immunity is silver, here is a link that was previously presented in SurvivalBlog. This public health link indicates that you have to work very hard at it to get any kind of negative reaction to silver at all, but again, moderation is the key – just do a picture search on “blue skin colloidal silver” (if you ingest too much colloidal silver your skin really turns gray-blue, permanently), but this seems to be purely a cosmetic problem connected to intentionally ingesting large amounts, not by using silver for eating or storing food.
Both tradition and research indicate that eating off of silver is a good idea for general health and immunity, so get your inherited silver flatware out of the box and use it for every day. If you search flea markets/ Craigslist etc., look for “Sterling Silver” or a small 925 stamp somewhere on the handle, preferably not “Silver Plated” (depending on the thickness the silver layer wears off one day), and definitely not “Nickel Silver” or “German Silver” which actually mean “no silver”. Knife blades might be stainless steel, even in “real silver” flatware, but at least the spoons and forks are pure silver all through.
Another food safety issue is Bisphenol A (BPA) contained in the inner white coating in food cans and in soft plastic water bottles, so try to buy canned food in glass instead of metal, and/or do us much of your canning at home as possible. Store filtered water in clear glass bottles, so you can use the solar disinfecting method (lying flat at least 6 hours in full sunlight).
To avoid dust, that actually can contain a surprising amount of germs, parasite eggs and other nasties like molds settling on your plates and in your cups, I would suggest keeping glasses etc.,(and even books), behind cupboard doors or at least curtains, and mop you floors daily.
To round out this article, I should mention that I did a web search on “clean enough to be healthy, dirty enough to be happy” I found this page with some interesting recipes and further tips for home cleaning.