I recently had to take a class on food safety for restauranteurs, since I am opening up a hot dog cart later this month. The things I learned during this course were, to put it quite simply, fascinating. As it turns out, I have been doing many, many things wrong for a very, very long time.
For instance: Did you know that the maximum amount of time you can keep leftovers in the fridge is seven days? Seven days. Well, you see, my grandmother keeps cooked black beans in the refrigerator for up to three weeks. Three weeks!! What her mother had taught her was that the way to keep the beans from going bad over that extensive period of time was to boil them once or twice a week (this is repeated reheating). This procedure, she said, would kill off the bacteria and allow the beans to last that much longer. It worked- especially for low-income families living in the outskirts of the big city. Makes sense to me.
However, according to modern-day regulations, this procedure is not only a gross violation of many health codes, but a great and potential danger for all kinds of horrible, fever-and-vomit-inducing diseases, some being so severe that they may even result in DEATH. DEATH, I tell you! How-ever did my grandmother’s generation survive this time/temperature abuse?? (Those of you who deal with food on a commercial level understand this terminology…). How did my mother, so young and frail at one time, survive such severe abuse of time and temperature control?? It’s not like the beans went into the refrigerator right away (which is a violation too, anyway), nor did they get cooled in a chilled pan for a quick 2 hours to bring them to the safe temperature for refrigeration. Noooo. These things would sit, at the nifty and scary room temperature zone, for hours.
And while we’re talking about room temperature… according to the CDC and FDA and FUKCU, eggs must be stored at 45 or below. I had an instant flashback of my granmother’s kitchen from just last week, where she was holding a cute little basket of brown eggs right on her kitchen counter. We live in Florida. Trust me, room temperature is NEVER 45 or below. Gasp!!! Another violation! How are we still alive?!
And this brings me to my last and most twisted – and recent, at least – story of time/temperature/oxygen abuse. We’re talking full-on, no hold-barred, violations of at least 10 different kinds of food safety procedures. You see, we had an Independence Day party at our house recently, and our friend James made some smoked pork ribs. He started around 8am on Sunday, and cooked until about 4pm which is when the ribs were ready. By that point, everyone in the house was pretty much trashed. People were coming in and out of the house, people were singing/playing instruments/playing board games, food was everywhere, and flies were having a field day. The ribs and the potato salads went on the table around 4pm , and sometime around midnight, the last of the guests left and we just went to bed.
The next morning. I woke up, still in a state of intoxication, and went through the house assessing the damage. My house was destroyed. But where it really gets good is that, there in the back of the house, in the family room, near three large windows, sat two tables full of leftover food…. and this included two pans full of smoked ribs, still on display. Full, whole, delicious, marinated, smoked, meaty goodness, stacks of them, in aluminum trays. Dear Lord.
The ideal thing would have been to throw those ribs out. But… it was at least 4-5 lbs. of deliciously smoked meat. Enter my dear husband’s reasoning: “Well, you know, that’s how they used to preserve food back in the day, when there were no refrigerators…”
Really? Okay! I forbid myself from further rationalizing why that statement may not really be accurate, in favor of blissfully ignoring all safety hazards because, after all, we’re talking about smoked ribs which were prepared truly, as a labor of love. SOLD! The ribs went in the refrigerator, and we happily ate these ribs for an entire week before chucking the last two racks because we were sick of eating ribs.