I am often asked how safe is solar cooking. Food safety is a primary concern whether you are cooking in the kitchen or in the solar kitchen. Utmost care and caution must be used in order to prevent illness caused by improper storage, handling, and preparation of food. No one wants to be the “Potato Salad Lady”, whose potluck contribution spoiled at the picnic, causing everyone to get sick. So here are some basic guidelines to food safety.
Keeping food safe starts with basic personal hygiene. Washing hands frequently is paramount to food safety. In addition, single-use gloves should be used when preparing and cooking food to prevent the transfer of germs and pathogens. Cuts and injuries should be cleaned, bandaged, and covered with gloves as well.
- Before starting work
- Before putting on clean gloves
- Before and after handling raw food
- After using the restroom
- After sneezing or coughing
- After eating or drinking
- After smoking or using tobacco
- After handling chemicals
- After taking out the trash
- After touching your hair, body, clothing, or other un-sanitized objects
- After touching animals
- After any activity that might contaminate your hands
Clean & Sanitary
It is also very important to use clean utensils, clean tools, and to keep a clean work area. All utensils, dishes, tools, and work surfaces should be cleaned and sanitized after they come in contact with food, and before switching from one food to another. These items should be cleaned as often as necessary during use, after each use, and after 4 hours of continuous use. Proper sanitation will prevent cross-contamination of bacteria and allergens into the food.
Bacteria grow very fast in the temperature range of 40° – 140° F (5 – 57°C). For this reason, this range of temperature is called the “Danger Zone”. Bacteria can grow so rapidly that potentially hazardous food that stays at the high end of the range (70°- 140°) for more than 4 hours should be thrown out. And potentially hazardous food like chilled vegetables – think potato salad – that stays in the lower range of temperatures (under 70°) for more than 6 hours should also be thrown out.
Frozen food should never be thawed at room temperature because it will stay too long in the Danger Zone. It should be thawed in the refrigerator; submerged under cool running water; in the microwave; or as part of the cooking process.
In solar cooking, it is common to thaw food as part of the cooking process. However, when using this method, place an oven thermometer inside your solar oven and preheat the oven above 140° prior to placing food inside to ensure that the food passes through the Danger Zone quickly. Because roasting meat and poultry should be cooked at an oven temperature of 325°F., preheat the solar oven to at least 300° – 325°F before placing thawed meat into the oven.
Food in a solar oven generally takes about twice to three times as long to cook as in a regular oven. Allow plenty of time and ensure there will be plenty of sunshine to enable solar cooking. Since it is often difficult to determine whether food is completely done or not, use a food thermometer to verify the internal temperature of the food.
- 140°F – Ham, fully cooked (to reheat)
- 145°F –Beef, pork, and lamb
- 160°F –Egg dishes and ground meat
- 165°F—Poultry, stuffing, casseroles, reheat leftovers
Nothing is more important than your family, your friends, and you. Do not risk their health to foodborne illness due to improper storage, handling, or cooking – whether you are in the kitchen or in the solar kitchen.