Closed Captioned For The Thinking Impaired

Sunday, October 9, 2016

A Cauldron of Molten Chocolate Cake In A Mixed Bag of Tricks

“Except for cases that clearly involve a homicidal maniac, the police like to believe murders are committed by those we know and love, and most of the time they're right - a chilling thought when you sit down to dinner with a family of five. All those potential killers passing their plates.”
― Sue Grafton, A is for Alibi

For the dedicated caregiver, family meals are an iffy proposition. Getting any group of people to sit together at one time is enough of a challenge, but when they are a motley assemblage of schedules, age, sex, and attitude that happen to share the same genes, it can be downright hostile. Individual preferences can't be easily catered to - and yet each family member will expect some nod to their tastebuds as they stuff their gullets (lest you risk their crying about your horrible neglect into their Gestalt therapists notepads for years to come) ; and when matters become further complicated since Sally is vegan, Tommy wants pancakes all-day, everyday, while little Jerry refuses to eat anything that hasn't been rolled into a tube and preserved by nitrates? Fuggetaboutit! It's a wonder that more homecooks aren't convicted murderers because, frankly, poisoning their nearest and dearest's gluten-free pasta is the only way to ensure everyone has received equal consideration.
I myself am not a parent, but I've have seen many a busy one who, in desperation to fulfill the needs of the collective (and maintain some semblance of sanity), give up entirely on anything vaguely nutritive, and find themselves repeatedly resorting to the panacea of fast-food restaurants: Taco Bell and McDonald's to the rescue. (No wonder McDonald's "You Deserve A Break Today" and "Have You Had Your Break Today?" slogans were named the #1 Advertising Jingles of the Century by AdAge.). Sure to us, the child-free culinarily virtuous, it's still poisoning, but it's a slow poisoning: comprised of several legal lethal injections, one "Happy Meal" at a time.
The happiest day of the year for the childbearing set, when an American parent is almost free from the angst of wondering how many spoonfuls of sugar will help the meal-time medicine go down, has got to be Halloween. It's an endless downpour of confectionary bliss: Snickers and Reese's Peanut Butter Cup and M&Ms ... OH MY! Enough to put the sweet cherubs into a sugar coma for one long blessed mid-autumn evening. Although Halloween itself has never held any true interest for me. I had too many real life ghouls and goblins to contend with growing up, making the thinning of the veil between underworld and real world just another a silly thought.. besides those worlds are constantly overlapping, of course! What are ghosts but persistent memories? Picturing a parade of merry Medeas and Cronuses singing, "Free at last! Free at last!" (at the suggestion of a sympathetic pal whose advice I sought for writing something less than ordinary about All Hallow's Eve), I nearly conjured up a recipe for adeptly poisoning trick-or-treater's candy and getting away with it, but reconsidered on moral grounds. I don't want to contribute to the delinquency of a procreator. Though, sadly, historically speaking, there are no lack of begetters who have resorted to poisoning their begotten for a brief respite from family life.
Deborah Blum, author of The Poisoner’s Handbook, claims that Mary Ann Cotton was the world’s most renowned “arsenic murderess.” Between 1865 and 1873 in the North of England, she murdered three of her four husbands, as well as a lover, to collect on their insurance policies. It’s believed that she could’ve killed up to 21 victims—including 11 of her 13 children—and was ultimately hanged for her crimes. Within that time frame, American Lydia Sherman operated in much the same vein. Using rat poison as her first toxin of choice, she offed her third husband by adding spoonfuls of the pesticide to his mug of hot chocolate.
You see? Those good old days of yesteryear are not as idyllic as we are led to believe. Nostalgia is a distorted rearview mirror whose surface is coated with rainbows, instead of aluminum, but some times are better misremembered anyway, particularly when we didn't actually experience them (insert wink emoticon for those whose diets are irony-deficient). The only true family-style "happy meals" not served at McDonalds are likely those imagined in the pages of fiction and written into scenes for children's films/ television shows. So with this fuzzy logic I looked forward to my backward glance at cartoon life as I myself sought to prepare an article for you dear readers that would kill two pterodactyls with one boulder: viz. write something vaguely Halloweenish and foodly.
I was going to subject you to a Dinner of the Damned cooked up by Dante's Inferno - a 9 course meal for those infernal circles of Hell. I wanted each course to be from Dante's 13th Century Fiorenza and directly correspond to an individual diner from each level, a representative of the group as a whole: letting the food course fit the sinner and his sin. To make it more relevant for the average reader of today's social media-infected crapitola (I'm not referring to you, of course, discerning reader),  my dinner guests would be culled from a list of trending celebrities, fictional characters, notorious murderers, sports icons, and historical figures who were born after Dante wrote his classic poem, but I soon realized that not only would the audience for such an undertaking be limited to those three people on earth (still amongst the living) who actually read Dante's Inferno in its entirety, but also that the article's scope would exceed the space that this humble column allows.  Honestly, I feel as though most months I already stretch the limits of readers' (and editors') patience with my prolix meanderings on the arcana of foodisms, BUT Dinner at Chez Dante's the only idea that occurred to me that hadn't already had volumes written about it ad nauseum in food circles ... probably for good reason! 

Gustave DorĂ©'s depiction of Minos judging sinners at the start of Canto

It's quite remarkable the ostensible appetite publishers and food writers believe homecooks have for the stuff. The pantheon of food literature written on everything remotely macabre is enough to choke the Kraken's throat. From Lemonysnicket's Pasta Puttanesca to the Addams Family's "Mushrooms Fester" and "Hearts Stuffed", to copious recipes adding a touch of eye of newt and suggesting popping over to the neighbors for a cup of cyanide. I found Harry Potter's Butterbeer Sauce with Golden Snitch Truffles and Nosebleed Nougats, Turkish Delights from The Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Ring's Lemba Bread, Sleepy Hollow's Slapjacks. An endless array of whimsical ghoulish stomach-churners... there's even a Necronomicon Cookbook featuring such comestibles as Cthulhu Pot Pie and Chthonic Casserole of Yog Sothoth for the ardent H.P. Lovecraft fan. After all this, I still considered writing a recipe for Buffalo-style Hippogriff wings... but thought better of it. I didn't want teenybopper vegan Harry Potter fans (or their virtue-signaling parents) writing me death threats. Then I opted for riffing on MFK Fisher's, "How To Cook A Wolf" with "How To Cook A Werewolf", and, as she did in her essay, subtly turned it into an exposition on the current state of national politics, but lost the stomach for yet another didactic bit of social commentary served up as infotainment. This election season has already taken several huge slurps from the chicken soup of my soul.
Recreating Lucrezia Borgia's Banquet of Chestnuts seemed promising until I discovered it was more orgy than banquet: mostly just chestnuts scattered on the floor as guests ground each other into meat patties on top of their fragrant carpet of nuts. I was also disappointed to learn darling Lucrezia didn't really poison everyone she dined with. Dropping that theme, I then began research on great chefs who were murderers, but, although it turns out many sociopaths are attracted to restaurant work, none are actually chefs. Surprising, eh? I thought for sure I'd find a skeleton or two in Gordon Ramsay's Hell's Kitchen pantry.
From there to a Murderer's Row Dinner Banquet menu filled with final meal requests was just a hop, skip and a thump, but the Death Row'ers requests were disappointingly pedestrian (Hannibal Lecter would look askance at the mundane meal choices). Except, that is, for kidnapper and murderer, Victor Feguer, hanged in 1963 - the last person executed in Iowa. As his final meal, Victor requested a single olive with the pit still in it, with the hopes that it would grow into an olive tree from inside his body. Another request of note was interesting not so much for its content as for its wickedly ironic tone: Ricky Ray Rector was executed in 1992 for the 1981 murder of police officer Robert Martin in Conway, Arkansas. He requested steak, fried chicken, cherry Kool-Aid and pecan pie, but left the pecan pie on the side of the tray, telling the guards who came to take him to the execution chamber that he was "saving it for later." 
Even the infamous Jeffrey Dahmer, Milwaukee's favorite cannibal, American serial killer and sex offender left my ladle cold. He didn’t have a scheduled date for execution when he met his end, but, before fellow inmate, 25 year old Christopher Scarver, beat him to death, apparently he did consume what would undoubtedly be a USDA-approved last breaking of the fast: one hard-boiled egg, toast, cereal and coffee when he woke on the morning of November 28th, 1994. At 7:50am, Jeff and two other inmates were brought in to clean the prison gymnasium. Twenty minutes later, guards found Dahmer and one of the other inmates beaten severely, one hour and one minute later, Dahmer was pronounced dead en route to the local Divine Savior Hospital. Dahmer's head was destroyed with a broom handle, then smashed against the floor and wall. There was blood everywhere. The other inmate was in critical condition. Apparently, Jeff's last words to Scarver were, "I don't care if I live or die. Go ahead and kill me." Such a good sport. That led me to wondering what he used to give away as candy to trick-or-treaters...and attempting a little exposition on the Halloween habits of serial killers, but I reached yet another dead end. 
And on that cheery note, I direct you to the next platter of this article's smorgasbord:
A Munster's Family Menu.
THE MUNSTERS was a situation comedy on CBS between 1964-68. They were not as wonderfully weird as the Addams Family (whose popular show ran against The Munsters on a rival network at primetime). The Munsters lacked the income, sophistication and mordancy of the Addamses - they were the working class-version. Despite being supernatural creatures (with Frankenstein's monster as the head of the family, vampires for both mother and grandfather, a werewolf as an only child, a "normal" cousin who is adopted by the family, and a pet dragon), Herman and the clan were remarkably less outre than they were blithe spirits trying to get along in a world in which they couldn't quite assimilate, but not for lack of trying;  somehow, they still considered themselves a typical mid-20th century American nuclear family, much of the comedy in the script relied on a cheerful obliviousness to their effect on their human neighbors. The Munsters lived at 1313 Mockingbird Lane in the city of Mockingbird Heights, a fictional suburb in California. The story lines were topical, incorporating themes of the era. Herman, like many husbands of the 1960s, is the sole wage-earner in the family; though Lily and Grandpa often made futile and hilarious attempts to assist him financially from time to time. Lily and Herman were depicted as equal partners in the marriage. A devoted housewife, Lily prepared most of the meals and eagerly encouraged her little boy Eddie to eat with a "Don't just sit there, wolf down your food." In one memorable episode, "Will Success Spoil Herman Munster?", in order to save Herman from divadom when a song Herman records became an instant hit on a popular radioshow, Grandpa Munster (who was not only a vampire but also a mad scientist concocting potions in his basement laboratory) baked his Nothin' Muffins promising his daughter Lily "one bite turns anything good into nothin", feeding them to Herman, ending Herman's singing career and all was doves and olive branches in the Munster household once more. 

The series often depicted the family eating together with gustatory relish on a diet that included the following:

Chopped Lizard Livers
Cold Rhinoceros Tongue Sandwiches.
Fillet of Dragon.
Eggs (Gloomy Side Up)
Cream of Vulture Soup (Herman's favorite)
Curried Lizard Casserole
Rolled Hyena-foot Roast
Bird's Nest Stew (Grandpa's favorite)
Warm Ladyfingers with Pickled Frog Ears
Dodo Bird Roast
Cream of Buzzard or Iguana Soup
Cactus Salad
Salamander Salad with Centipede Dressing
Bloody Mary or Bat's milk (served hot).
Devil's Food Cake for dessert

Well after the demise of the show, Al Lewis, the actor who played Grandpa Munster in the series, owned & ran his own Italian restaurant on Bleecker Street in Manhattan. Between 1987 to 1993, you could find the tall, affable Lewis—once a basketball star at Thomas Jefferson High School in East New York— on Bleecker and Leroy Streets. Grampa’s Bella Gente Italian is where he capitalized on his Munsters' fame, living a fruitful afterlife, parlaying his passion for plasma into one for pasta. I myself once enjoyed a perfectly adequate dish of linguine there just prior to its closing. Without so much as a whisper, the kitchen door eerily swung open. Dark and imposing against a swirling backdrop of steam rising from the pots of boiling water beyond, his theatrical figure in the doorway, tufts of gray hair, and arched eyebrows made him instantly recognizable even without the pasty makeup. He was the host of Bella Gente as well as the owner, personally meeting and seating every guest: spry, spirited looking very elegant and dapper dressed in a red bow tie and tweed suit (though I do remember being disappointed he wasn't dressed in the full Munster's vampire regalia, but I was young, please don't hold it against me). He'd stand out in front of his restaurant every night, beckon customers, happily posing for photos. After Grampa’s Bella Gente closed, Lewis opened two comedy clubs, and hosted a political talk show on WBAI in the 1990s - becoming a colorful addition to radical N.Y. City politics, as well as a frequent and raucous guest on the Howard Stern show, memorably haranguing the FCC with a flurry of bleepable expletives.

Lewis ran for governor in 1998 on the Green Party ticket (and scored 52,000 votes). An actor onstage and off, he indulged in a bit of self-mythologizing: "I'm not a politician. I've been a performer all my life. But I'm a very political person and have been that way fifty, sixty years. I was involved with topical events of the day like the attempt to stop the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti, the imprisonment of Tom Mooney and Warren K. Billings, the trial and imprisonment of the Scottsboro Boys..." 
And: "Charles Manson babysat my kids," he once bragged. "He didn't chop no heads off. He was very nice with me."

A fascinating character who held a PhD in child psychology, Al Lewis seemed to have found the secret to living a happy life, "I absolutely must have fun at what I'm doing," he once said in an interview with the New York Daily News "If I don't, I leave, I quit. I don't care how much money is involved if the work is a drudge." He died at his Roosevelt Island home on February 3, 2006. At his funeral, one friend said, “Who was Al Lewis? A raconteur. The de facto mayor of Roosevelt Island. The best-dressed man on Roosevelt Island. He held court in front of 546 Main Street, the senior citizens center…” It should be noted that Grampa Munster’s signature ride, the ‘dragula’ gold coffin on wheels, rolled his remains up to the door of the church. 
Inspired by Grandpa Munster's penchant for mixing volatile politics like potions, I offer up these molten lava cakes - a bubbling cauldron of chocolate, but, unlike the cauldron featured in the song of the witches from Macbeth, you only need a few ingredients, none of which include howlet's wing. Save that for your next spell:

Macbeth, Act IV, Scene 1
A dark Cave. In the middle, a Caldron boiling. Thunder.
Enter the three Witches
Thrice the brinded cat hath mew'd.
Thrice and once, the hedge-pig whin'd.
Harpier cries:—'tis time! 'tis time!
Round about the cauldron go;
In the poison'd entrails throw.—
Toad, that under cold stone,
Days and nights has thirty-one;
Swelter'd venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i' the charmed pot!
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the caldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork, and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg, and howlet's wing,—
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.
Scale of dragon; tooth of wolf;
Witches' mummy; maw and gulf
Of the ravin'd salt-sea shark;
Root of hemlock digg'd i the dark;
Liver of blaspheming Jew;
Gall of goat, and slips of yew
Sliver'd in the moon's eclipse;
Nose of Turk, and Tartar's lips;
Finger of birth-strangled babe
Ditch-deliver'd by a drab,—
Make the gruel thick and slab:
Add thereto a tiger's chaudron,
For the ingredients of our cauldron.
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.
Cool it with a baboon's blood,
Then the charm is firm and good.


Crusty on the outside, all warm chocolate ooze on the inside, this is pure sensuality on a plate. The now ubiquitous dessert has remained a restaurant classic since its invention in the late 1980s & is one of the easiest ways for any homecook to replicate a Michelin-starred chef's dish (hell, even Betty Crocker sells a bastardized one-minute microwaveable version of it named Warm Delights, which are essentially single-serving bowls of regular old cake mix). In New York, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, chef-owner of JoJo, created the molten chocolate cake. It happened by accident: He pulled a chocolate sponge cake (the recipe is his mother’s) out of the oven too early, tasted the cake, and discovered that the raw gush of its underdone center was delectable. He called the cake a Chocolate Valrhona Cake, and served it with vanilla ice cream, and a new classic was born. I suggest you serve it with a raspberry coulis to make it more Halloweenish (though coffee, vanilla, caramel or peanut butter ice cream will all work, too.) Tell your brats the raspberry coulis is bat's blood, if they look down their noses at you for not providing something kitschier for them to eat. With any luck they'll stick to Kit Kats and candy corn and you can have these treats all to yourself! 

½ cup unsalted butter, plus more for buttering the molds
4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces
4 large eggs
¼ cup sugar
2 teaspoons flour, plus more for dusting the molds

Put the butter in a medium bowl and melt it in the microwave. Add the chocolate to the hot butter and stir until melted.
Crack 2 eggs into a bowl, and add 2 more yolks (discard the extra whites, or save & whip into a meringue as a fun topping for the cakes). Add the sugar, and beat or whisk until light and thick, about 1 minute. Add egg mixture and 2 teaspoons flour to the melted chocolate; beat until combined.
Butter and lightly flour four 4-ounce molds or ramekins (make sure not to miss any spots, or the cakes will stick). Tap out the excess flour. Divide the batter among the molds. (At this point you can refrigerate them for up to 3 hours; just bring them back to room temperature before baking.)
When you’re ready to bake, heat the oven to 450. Put the molds on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until the cakes have puffed up a bit, the tops are barely set and the cakes still jiggle slightly when shaken, 7 to 9 minutes (better underbaked than overbaked). Let sit for 1 minute.
Put a plate on top of the ramekin and (with a potholder to protect your hand) carefully invert the cake onto the plate. Let it sit for 10 seconds, then lift up the ramekin. Serve immediately with raspberry coulis (recipe below).

Serves 4 lucky ghouls.


1⁄3 cup sugar
3 Tablespoons of water
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice 
1 lb fresh raspberries or 1 (12 ounce) bag frozen raspberries, thawed
1 teaspoon kirsch (optional) or 1 teaspoon framboise eau-de-vie (optional)


Heat the sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring from time to time, until the sugar dissolves completely, about 5 minutes.
Put the raspberries, lemon juice, and the sugar syrup in a blender and puree.
Strain through a fine mesh sieve to remove the seeds and stir in the kirsch or framboise, if using.
The sauce keeps well, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for 4-5 days and freezes perfectly for several months.
Yields 1 1/2 cups

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Better Safe Than Sorry: On Food Safety

“Open your mind to what I shall disclose, and hold it fast within you; he who hears, but does not hold what he has heard, learns nothing.” 
― Dante AlighieriParadiso

It's gleaming white. A font of purity. Grateful for its cool porcelain embrace, you're prostrated before it, awash in the fluorescence of this peculiar sanctuary's baptismal light. You could be a mendicant, hoping for a few crumbs of charity from the gods of intestinal fortitude as you grip tight onto the bowl's contours, but the sheer force of the projectile issuing from your praying mouth, rattling your knees and jangling your nerves, is no offering to a Supreme Being. It's the result of yet another bout of food poisoning. Amazing to think how something as tiny as a microbe from the bacterium Campylobacter jejuni could fell a mighty oak like you, but it does. There is no lovely poetic way of writing about it (though I did once pen a sonnet to Diarrhea just because I hate writing sonnets), so let's just ummm.... plunge right in, shall we?

Campylobacter jejuni is a common cause of food poisoning. Contaminated poultry, meat and milk are sources of infection. It can take up to 3 days for the symptoms to develop. I, sad to say, have had it, and who knows how many other foodborne illnesses to boot. I have spent many a miserable day in its grips places as far flung as Hong Kong to right here in my humble Russian Hill apartment. There is no safe haven from food poisoning. Let's face it, even if you cook your meals, unless you have your own farm, butcher your own meat, grow and harvest your own vegetables, and are scrupulously hygienic all the while, you are at the mercy of thousands of what are likely unwashed hands handling every morsel you munch which means the risk of succumbing to a foodborne germ or illness is high.

In fact, according to the CDC, each year, 1 in 6 Americans gets sick by consuming contaminated foods or beverages. That's about 48 million people - 128, 000 of them are hospitalized with 5, 000 of those cases being fatal.

Many different disease-causing microbes, or pathogens, can contaminate foods, so there are many different foodborne infections, almost as many infections, it seems, as there are foods that can carry them. More than 250 different foodborne diseases have been described. Most of these diseases are infections, caused by a variety of bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can be foodborne. In addition, poisonous chemicals, or other harmful substances can cause foodborne diseases if they are present in food.

Gastro-intestinal distress is a common symptom of all these maladies, no matter what the source. It isn't just raw food that is the culprit. Foods and beverages (particularly juices) prepared in restaurants, supermarket delis, anywhere and everywhere that cooked food is handled and served, including private homes (YOUR home) can be a veritable petri dish of contaminants.

Campylobacter infections commonly cause diarrhea and occasionally bacteremia, with consequent endocarditis, osteomyelitis, or septic arthritis. Campylobacter species are motile, curved, microaerophilic, gram-negative bacilli that normally inhabit the GI tract of many domestic animals and fowl. Several species are human pathogens. The major pathogens are C. jejuni and C. fetus. C. jejuni causes diarrhea in all age groups, although peak incidence appears to be from age 1 to 5 yr. C. jejuni can cause meningitis in infants. Contact with infected animals (eg, puppies) and ingestion of contaminated food (especially undercooked poultry) or water have been implicated in outbreaks. Person-to-person transmission through fecal-oral and sexual contact may also occur. However, in sporadic cases, the source of the infecting organism is frequently obscure. Although Campylobacter jejune is a well recognized infection associated with GBS, stool culture for Campylobacter jejuni is not essential for diagnosis. By the time the disease presents stool cultures are often negative.

Then of course, we have more in our foodborne illness buffet:

1) Enterotoxigenic E. coli causes the classic traveler's diarrhea. The infection is non-invasive and is acquired via the fecal-oral route through consumption of unbottled water or uncooked vegetables. The major manifestation is a copious outpouring of fluid from the GI tract presenting as explosive diarrhea. This is due to the action of one of two types of enterotoxins on the GI tract mucosa.

2) Shigella sonnei produces a syndrome very similar to C. jejuni. However, the organism appears as a gram-negative rod on Gram's stain. It does not have a comma shape. Transmission is from person to person via the fecal-oral route. Infection requires a low infective dose since the organism is fairly resistant to gastric acidity.

3) Staphylococcus aureus produces food poisoning due to the ingestion of a pre-formed enterotoxin. The organism is present in food that is high in salt content such as potato salad, custard, milk shakes, and mayonnaise. The patient presents with nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain, followed by diarrhea beginning 1-6 hours after ingestion of the enterotoxin.

4) Vibrio cholerae produces a secretory diarrhea due to increases in cAMP in the intestinal cells. The organism is not invasive. The patient presents with the sudden onset of painless, watery diarrhea that becomes voluminous, followed by vomiting. The stool appears nonbilious, gray, and slightly cloudy with flecks of mucus, no blood, and a sweet odor.

And these are just the first four pathogens I picked out of a bucket of KFC Popcorn Nuggets. There are many, many more; each of them oodles of fun to describe, but I'll spare you my interpretations and provide you with this fun-filled graphic instead:

What to do?

It's not like we are going to stop eating or drinking anytime soon, much as I'd love to think I could subsist on love like every ethereal creature should. So... 

The CDC has a few recommendations:


Wash hands and food preparation surfaces often. And wash fresh fruits and vegetables carefully. Keep all the surfaces, utensils (chef's knives and cutting boards) separate and clean. Anything raw that is to be cooked needs a separate cutting board, from anything that is going to be eaten raw. For instance:

Don't cut up chicken on a cutting board and then chop up tomatoes for a salad on that same cutting board with the same knife. Wash everything as you are preparing food, most especially when handling poultry. Almost 75% of chickens carry the Campylobacter jejuni bacteria which is why, in general, I try to handle poultry as little as possible, cooking it in large pieces before actually slicing it; though on the rare occasion, I do succumb to my husband's yen for General Tso's or Lemon Chicken and slice the raw into bite-sized morsels for breading and stir-frying, but when I do, I am washing my hands, sink, knives, and even faucet handles obsessively. Bleach mixed with water or bleach sprays with paper towels are good things to have right at your elbow whilst preparing high risk foods. Chicken blood is the worst, contain & clean it immediately if you have a spill on your counter.


Don't cross-contaminate! How you store and handle your food is of primary concern. When handling raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs, keep these foods and their juices away from ready-to-eat foods - even when traveling from the supermarket to home. Make sure they are bagged separately. A hot rotisserie chicken should go in its own bag! Cross-contamination is the transfer of microbes from raw foods to prepared and cooked foods, it can take place by:

raw food touching or splashing on cooked food
raw food touching equipment or surfaces that are then used for cooked food
people touching raw food with their hands and then handling cooked food

To prevent cross-contamination it is important to maintain good kitchen hygiene such as storing cooked and raw food separately and good personal hygiene by washing hands correctly and tying hair back.

3) COOK:

Cook the food to the right temperature.
The bacteria that cause food poisoning multiply quickest in the “Danger Zone” between 40˚ and 140˚ Fahrenheit. And while many people think they can tell when food is “done” simply by checking its color and texture, there’s no way to be sure it’s safe without following a few important but simple steps:

Use a food thermometer.
Cooked food is safe only after it’s been heated to a high enough temperature to kill harmful bacteria. Color and texture alone won’t tell you whether your food is done, especially less experienced cooks. Instead, use a food thermometer to be sure.
Keep food hot after cooking (at 140 ˚F or above).
The possibility of bacterial growth actually increases as food cools after cooking because the drop in temperature allows bacteria to thrive. But you can keep your food above the safe temperature of 140˚F by using a heat source like a chafing dish, warming tray, or slow cooker. So your supermarket macaroni & cheese that you just stuck in to-go container may make you sick, unless it's kept hot and consumed hot.
Microwave all reheated food to 165 degrees.

*Note: I will never serve lamb, beef, or duck at 160 degrees, unless it's stewed. I serve steaks and racks rare to medium rare.. 125 degrees to 140 degrees. This is a risk I am willing to take, but when reheating stews & soups, I make sure it is piping hot - at least 165 degrees. As far as fish is concerned, I love my sushi, sashimi, and tartares, but if the fish is not absolutely pristine? I won't eat it. Know the source of your foods. Understand the practices of your food purveyors, too. 

However, here are the recommended USDA Guidelines:

Remember... Microbes like all living organisms need food for energy and growth. Sometimes microbes get in or on food and start to break it down to provide them with energy and nutrients. Microbial growth causes the food to look, taste and / or smell unappetizing, but it may very well be contaminated before that stage. 
Follow this simple maxim:

When in doubt? Throw it out.

At room temperature, bacteria in food can double every 20 minutes. The more bacteria there are, the greater the chance you could become sick. So, refrigerate foods quickly because cold temperatures keep most harmful bacteria from multiplying.
A mold is a type of fungus. Fungal spores (these are like the seeds of a plant) are all around us in the air. These spores can land on the fruit. If it is warm and moist the fungal spores grow. They send out very fine thread-like structures called hyphae. The molds that grow on fruit and vegetables produce enzymes that weaken the protective outer skin allowing penetration by the hyphae. The hyphae grow down into the fruit, digest it and absorb the nutrients. These threads criss-cross each other to form a large tangled structure known as a mycelium. The hyphae produce stalks that grow upwards. Spores form at the end of the stalks and are released into the air to start the process over again. Eventually the fruit becomes covered in a furry coat and is not fit to eat.

Food preservation reduces the rate at which food decays by slowing down the rate of growth of microbes or eliminating them. It can affect the flavor and texture of the food. Preservation techniques include, refrigeration, freezing, drying sterilization, curing with salts &/or sugars and pasteurization.

Fresh raw meat can be safely stored 3-5 days in your refrigerator.
Poultry should only be kept 1-2 days. Keep them in the coldest part of your unit. The following graphic will provide good guidelines to follow for the storage of a variety of foods
(click on the graphic to view full-sized):

The ideal temperature range for your fridge is 35 to 38 degrees Fahrenheit. Bacteria growth starts tripling around the 40 degree mark and things freeze at 32, so stick with 35 to 38 as a goal. 
The freezer should be set at 0 °F. Since few refrigerator controls show actual temperatures, using an inexpensive freestanding appliance thermometer will allow you to monitor the temperature and adjust the setting of the refrigerator and/or freezer if necessary. Buy one for the fridge, one for the freezer, and check them often. Most newer appliances have readouts, but if you don't or are in doubt, you can always buy a refrigerator-freezer thermometer at your local hardware store or online at sites like Amazon.  In addition to keeping the temperature in your fridge below 40 °F, you can take additional steps to make sure your refrigerated foods stay as safe as possible.

Avoid "Overpacking."
Cold air must circulate around refrigerated foods to keep them properly chilled.

Wipe Up Spills Immediately.
In addition to helping reduce the growth of the Listeria bacteria (which can grow at refrigerated temperatures), getting rid of spills — especially drips from thawing meats — will help prevent "cross-contamination," where bacteria from one food spread to another.

Keep It Covered:
Store refrigerated foods in covered containers or sealed storage bags, and check leftovers daily for spoilage.

Clean The Fridge Out Frequently.
Make this task part of your kitchen cleaning routine!

Whether you're dealing with leftovers or just-purchased foods, it's important to get foods that need refrigeration into your fridge quickly. Leaving perishable foods out for two hours or more allows bacteria to multiply rapidly — and can put you at serious risk of contracting foodborne illness.

Groceries: When you get home from the grocery store, put your refrigerated items away as quickly as possible. Never allow raw meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, or produce that requires refrigeration to sit at room temperature for more than two hours; the limit is one hour if the air temperature is above 90 °F. (If you're not sure whether certain produce requires refrigeration, ask your grocer.)   
Also, keep in mind that your car is probably even hotter than typical room temperature, so it's important not to leave groceries in your car longer than absolutely necessary — and never more than 2 hours (or 1 hour on a hot day).

Leftovers: These need to be refrigerated or frozen within two hours, as well. Despite what some people believe, putting hot food in the refrigerator doesn't harm the appliance. To help hot food cool faster, divide leftovers into smaller containers before putting them in the refrigerator.

Doggie Bags and Take-out Foods: Again, the "two-hour rule" applies to carry-home foods. Leftovers from takeout or restaurant meals need to go into the refrigerator within two hours at most. If you can't get home within two hours after eating out, don't request a doggie bag.

Marinated Foods: Always keep food in the refrigerator while it's marinating. Bacteria can multiply rapidly in foods left to marinate at room temperature. Also, remember this tip for marinating safely: never reuse marinating liquid as a sauce unless you bring it to a rapid boil first.

Thaw with Care: Because bacteria can multiply so rapidly in unrefrigerated food, it's simply unsafe to let food thaw at room temperature. If left unrefrigerated, some organisms can create toxins that will survive the cooking process even if the food is cooked to temperatures that kill the bacteria themselves.

There are three ways to thaw safely: in the refrigerator, in cold water, and in the microwave. If you thaw food in cold water, change the water every half hour to make sure it stays cold. Foods thawed in the microwave must be cooked immediately after thawing.


I realize this is not a very appealing topic and after reading all this the sane person is likely to go on a diet of crackers and alcohol - most booze is mercifully free of foodborne pathogens (low-alcohol beers, however, are still susceptible), but let us be reasonable and rational consumers of comestibles and just exercise a bit of caution when purchasing, cooking, and storing food instead. Most municipalities have a Board of Health which oversees restaurants, delis & supermarkets, check your favorite haunts for their Restaurant Safety Scores. 

Better safe than sorry.