Keeping your kitchen clean during the time of COVID-19

Story – Gautam Viswanathan

The weekend is here, and that ordinarily means treating yourself and your family to some great food. These, however, are not ordinary times. The global coronavirus outbreak has everyone taking several additional measures to ensure hygiene during these concerning times.

Whether you want to dish up some delicious food at home, or are looking to order in, ensuring your food is prepared only the best hygienic conditions is a priority at this time. To find how this is done, we spoke to chefs, food bloggers and food delivery companies in the Sultanate.

Following these measures will go a long way in ensuring the safety of you and your family.

Abdullah Al Hashmi, Mr Chef Oman

What can people do to ensure their food is properly cleaned during a time like this?

When it comes to fruits and vegetables, we’d normally wash them, but now, you have to sanitise them. As a chef, in a hotel or restaurant, you have a sanitisation process, but that is not possible at home, so you need a cleaning agent that is easily available. In this case, it is white vinegar. Soak your vegetables in salt and white vinegar for two or three minutes, and then soak it in clear water for 15 minutes. If you need to clean fruit, then do the same, but soak it in water two or three times, so that the taste of the salt and vinegar goes away.

How do you clean meat and make sure it is fit for consumption?

Meat normally comes in a bag, so please wash the bag. At home, clean the bag with salt and vinegar and then boil the meat. When the meat hits the boiling water, you will see a white film appear on top, and that needs to be removed, because it consists of all the dirt present in the meat. You can then wash the meat under tap water and then cook it.

How do hotels and restaurants need to make sure their food is hygienic?

There are so many things you need to follow on a daily basis. If, for example, you need to inspect the buffet, then you need to check the food temperature, or the way it is placed on the buffet, so that you don’t allow germs to grow on them.

There is also a record sheet where you have to describe how you maintain all the items in the kitchen, such as the cookers, the ovens, the grills, everything. You also need to store food properly and at the right temperature. If we were to talk about frozen chicken, for example, one of the biggest microbial threats is salmonella. If you were to defrost this chicken, you have to cook it straight away. You cannot defrost it and then put it back in the chiller right away, because that will lead to bacterial growth.

Ensure your work spaces are clean and that things are stored properly. If, for example, meat is transported in a regular car, and not a refrigerated truck, at a temperature of, say, 25 degrees, we cannot put it in a chiller that has a temperature of five degrees as this acts as a shock to the meat, and it will spoil very quickly.

Firdaus Noorain, home chef

As a home chef with a large online following, hygiene would be one of your top priorities…

Wash your hands properly, use anti-bacterial sanitisers, wash your kitchen cloths regularly, and use gloves when you are washing and cutting vegetables. Make sure your cutting board is properly maintained. Don’t use one that is old and has scratches as this could cause cuts to your skin, and might lead to an infection. Right now, you need to keep away from any sort of infection.

What are the things you do to maintain hygiene?

The first thing I do is take bath…I never cook food without having taken a bath first. I then fasten my hair properly so that it does not interfere with my meal preparation in the kitchen. I first take care of myself. These days, I have taken to wearing gloves because of all the health concerns that are going on. Normally, I’d just wash my hands and then begin cutting the vegetables, but during times like this, you can’t take a chance.

I wash my dishes with hot water, so I need to make sure my water heater is switched on in advance. Then, I start with the vegetables and the rice. Every time I cut a vegetable, I make sure it is washed in a solution of water and vinegar. I add just one tablespoon of vinegar to water, and then keep the veggies in there for at least five minutes. This way, any kind of bacteria that can cause infection is removed. Then, I wash it with normal water and then start peeling it and cutting it.

Nusreen Sahil, food blogger

How are you maintaining hygienic practices during a time like this?

At home, what we do is try to maintain a situation where we try to not interact much with other people. Even when we buy groceries, we try as much as possible to get them delivered home. There’s less interaction with people that way.

I also make sure there is very less interaction with the delivery person, because it is said that even cash has the potential to carry the virus with it. At home, it’s just us, and we use antiseptics to sanitise the entire place, and maintain proper hygiene practices while preparing food.

What precautions do you take when it comes to making food at home?

While cooking, we have not taken any extra precautions, because our standard procedure anyway is to wash our fruits and vegetables in turmeric, salt and water, as this helps kill the bacteria straight away. Whatever germs are there are killed immediately. We then scrub these vegetables and then use them.

The turmeric taste or colour does not stay either, because this is applied to the peel, which is then removed from the vegetable before cooking. The turmeric is only applied for about two to three minutes at most, anyway, so there is no long-lasting effect when it comes to taste.

As a food blogger, the impact of COVID-19 on restaurants surely affects you as well.

It has had an impact on the food blogging world but, right now, that is for the best as our health always comes first. When my family members and I do have cravings for food, we can always order in, and we make it a point to only order from those restaurants that are trusted for their good hygiene standards and cleanliness. We try to order in less as well, and make sure our payments are done through the delivery app, so that we don’t have to handle cash, and this helps minimise contact with the delivery person.

Gaurav Nahar, CEO, Akeed

As a food delivery service, you are a second party. How do you ensure the food you deliver is hygienic?

The most important person involved in this entire delivery process is the driver, and what we do is first apply the required hygiene standards to them. We first provide them gloves to wear, we have given them hand sanitiser bottles, and despite limited availability, we have been able to provide masks to some of them.

We have also asked them to clean their cars, their bags, and their hands before picking up and delivering each order. We have also sent emails to the restaurant from which we deliver, reminding them to follow the directives set out for all kitchen staff by the Ministry of Health.

How do you ensure these standards are met?

We have posted supervisors to each of our delivery areas and they conduct surprise checks of the vehicle. They ensure that the vehicles are clean, that the food comes in special bags that maintain the temperature of the food, and that their uniforms are clean. If we do find any errors in their conduct, then we penalise them. We have sent out a message to all our drivers and office staff, telling them to take time off if any of them does have a cold or is suffering from the flu.