Before we can even get started preparing food to serve and eat, it is essential to educate and equip yourself with basic food safety and handling knowledge. You can spend hours creating a weeks’ worth of lovely meals, but if something wasn’t stored at the correct temperature, or somewhere along the line cooked foods were exposed to raw meats, it will all be for nothing. Foodborne illness or poisoning is no joke, especiallywhen you’re cooking for little ones or elderly family members.
There’s no need to panic, however! In this post we’re going to dive in to the topics that cover basic kitchen organization, namely food storage, kitchen etiquette, kitchen sanitation, and the concept of “mise en place,” or, “everything in its place.” Being organized in the kitchen is essential to any successful meal prep strategy, so it’s critical we cover it before we start cooking.
Today we’ll discuss the two most important concepts of kitchen organization; kitchen sanitation and food storage.
The First “Lesson:” Kitchen Sanitation
I don’t care if you’ve got a fridge full of gourmet ingredients, or one that looks like you left town for a month, if your fridge and food prep spaces are dirty or disorganized, your meals aren’t going to be the best they can be.
Maintaining a clean home really should be part of everyone’s routines and keeping the kitchen clean should be at the top of every chef or home-cook’s list. I understand that everyone is busy and we all have packed schedules. Believe me, at the time of writing this I have a toddler and another baby in the way. I’m busy and tired and stretched thin, too. But if my kitchen isn’t clean, then it isn’t a safe space to provide meals for my family. So therefore, kitchen cleanliness is a priority.
Here are tasks that I think should be completed in order to have a safe space to work in. I organized them by frequency. (Some of these tasks might not be applicable to you. Just incorporate what does apply into your regular cleaning routines.)
· Keep kitchen free of clutter, take out trash and recyclables as needed.
· Empty sink of dishes or food. Wipe out sink.
· Wipe down countertops and stove top
· Sweep floors, as needed
· Wipe up spills on counter or in fridge/freezer immediately
· Keep inventory of perishable food in fridge. Leftovers that you intend to keep need to be frozen within 2 days of serving.
· Swap out dishtowels and dishcloths for clean ones
· Wipe down appliances with a cleaning solution, hot water, and a microfiber cloth
· Wash coffee pot and removable pieces. Wash any other utensils that sit out on counter and are exposed to grease, spills, dust
· Clean kitchen mat, if you have one
· Wash floors
· Dust tops of cabinets and fridge, corners of walls, light fixtures, and anywhere else where dust might accumulate
· Wipe down cupboard doors with cleaning solution, hot water, and a microfiber cloth.
· Replace sponges and sponge heads
· Inventory pantry and freezer. Make note of things you are running low on. Check expiration dates. Wipe up loose crumbs.
· Clean inside of microwave if used frequently, otherwise this can be a monthly task.
· Spray light switch plates, door handles and cabinet drawer pulls/handles with a food safe disinfectant.
· Clean refrigerator shelves and drawers. Wash with hot, soapy water, or run through dishwasher if possible. Wipe down floors and walls of fridge and freezer.
· Deep clean the stove
· Run dishwasher with vinegar/baking soda cycles. First run a hot water cycle with 1 cup of white vinegar. Then sprinkle baking soda on floor of dishwasher and run a second cycle.
· Treat sink drains with a clog-cleaner like Draino or similar. (This is for sinks that do not have a garbage disposal)
· Clean kitchen trash and recycling cans with a spray cleaner/disinfectant and rinse out with hot water
· Check bottom front vent of fridge and back coils. Vacuum/dust if needed.
· Check inventory of chemicals and cleaning products. Clean up any spills.
This might seem like a lot, but really if you set a timer for five minutes, you can take care of quite a few tasks in a very short period of time. Daily tasks need to be addressed as they occur. Clean up spills that happen immediately. Incorporate tasks into your daily routine. Every night, wipe down the counters and empty the sink. Sweep the floor. You get the picture.
…and you know what? Some weeks these tasks just aren’t going to get done. Life gets in the way. Kids get sick. I totally get it. But if you are regularly maintaining your kitchen, or any space in your home for that matter, it will be totally fine if you miss a week of deep-cleaning tasks. The point is to just do it, as often and as regularly as you can.
...have a question about anything you've read so far? send me a message so I can help you!
Lesson Two: Food Storage
Next, we’ll discuss proper storage of food products. Many people don’t realize that they are not properly storing their refrigerated food products.
Close your eyes, envision the inside of your fridge, or better yet, open the door!
What do you see? Milk on the top shelf, eggs in the door, meat thawing in the middle, snacks on the bottom? Ack! No good! But, you aren’t alone. Many of us store our food this way. It’s how the fridges of our childhood homes were arranged. It’s just not really the best way to do it.
Here’s how you should be arranging your fridge, for best quality and to keep things fresh, longer:
The rule of thumb is, the closer to “raw product” it is, the further down it belongs. Always keep your refrigerator below 40 degrees F.
· Raw chicken, yogurt, eggs, milk, and other very temperature-sensitive items belong on the bottom shelf (not together, though! More on that in a minute.)
· Whole produce goes in the crisper drawers (anything that hasn’t been chopped or prepared in any way.)
· Leftovers to be frozen, cold cuts, cheeses and sandwich bread can be stored on the middle shelf.
· Anything ready-to-eat goes on the top shelf, including prepared fruits and vegetables.
· Condiments, butter, salad dressings and sauces can be stored on the door shelves.
· When storing raw meat, poultry, or fish in the fridge make sure it’s stored in a dish at least 1” deep and big enough (length and width-wise) to fully hold the product. You don’t want anything hanging over the edge, in other words. Also keep other foods a safe distance away from the thawing meat product. This will help to greatly cut down on cross-contamination.
When it comes to your freezer, the less free-space, the better.
In other words, your freezer does its job best when it is full. Now, that doesn’t mean you need to cram it as full of “stuff” as will fit.
If your freezer is exceptionally empty, however, you might want to buy a bag or two of ice to pack it a little more. Just a thought!
Your freezer should always be running at 0 degrees F or lower.
Canned and dry foods can be stored in the cupboards and pantry, at least 6” off of the floor.
Do not store any foods on the floor! You’re asking for mice, bugs, and other uninvited guests if you do. Everything in your pantry should be stored in air-tight containers and should be labeled if you can’t immediately tell what it is.
When it comes to pantry and cupboard maintenance, here are a few good guidelines to follow:
· Practice the concept of “FIFO” when stocking items and when taking items out to use. For those who don’t know, FIFO stands for “First In, First Out.” Or, use what’s “oldest” first. This will help automatically instill an element of quality control and will also help you when it comes time to check inventory.
· Keep things that you use most often within easy reach and at eye level if possible. This will help to keep you organized, and also help to avoid blindly digging around for something in the back corner. If you have deep shelves, invest in some shelf risers to keep things easy to reach and see.
· Although not necessary, it’s a good idea to store items you use frequently in clear, labeled containers. That way you can keep track if you’re running low without having to open the container. This helps to keep things fresh and also makes inventory check a breeze.
If nothing else, do yourself a favor and get into the habit of periodically inventorying your pantry and dry goods storage.
We all have had a can of something get lost in the way back, or a spill occurred without us realizing it. It happens. Just move on and make a point to check your cabinets regularly.
In part II of this series, we’ll cover Lessons 3 and 4, Proper Kitchen Habits and Mise En Place. Make sure you take notes, there will be a quiz at the end. (Kidding!) But seriously, I hope you’ll take what I’m saying to heart here. When it comes to meal prep and cooking food for your family, nothing is as important as good sanitation and storage habits.
See you soon!