Engu State, nestled in Southeastern Nigeria, is known for Nigeria’s first indigenous university and a slew of other prominent schools, in addition to a vibrant source of both mineral and agricultural resources, especially yam, rice, and coal.
But this September, the capital made national headlines when the death of a “prominent [undisclosed] man” spurred uprisings of mobs that the police were forced to quell.
The source of the man’s death–and the mob’s anger–was a restaurant. While investigations are likely still underway, initial inspection suggests that the man died from some form of food poisoning after consuming a meal of rice and stew.
While it is impossible to say the main cause, even rice can carry harmful pathogens. Uncooked rice can carry a strain of bacterium that is known to cause foodborne illness. If rice is left sitting out, spores can multiple and increase the likelihood of poisoning, which is why fully cooking and proper storage is essential.
It could, just as likely, have been the stew. Maafe is a traditional and popular peanut Nigerian stew made with beef, chicken, or both. Undercooked meat and poultry can carry serious pathogens, including campylobacter, listeria, e coli, salmonella.
Any of those, without the proper medical treatment, could lead to severe harm to the consumer.
Why Personal and Private Chefs Need to be Extra Cautious
Unfortunately, cases of food poisoning and foodborne illnesses are by no means a rarity in the United States, despite FDA regulation, food safety inspectors, and a slew of initiatives. The CDC estimates that 48 million people fall ill from food safety every year in the United States. Of these cases, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 actually die.
Though those estimates vary year to year, it’s exceedingly clear that proper food handling is absolutely essential for a safe and healthy population. Arguably, many of these instances occur in homes, with individuals not educated in proper heating, cooling, and storage of food. Open wounds and cross contamination are also leading causes.
Even trained and servsafe professionals make the same errors: McDonald’s, Chipotle, Burger King and Jimmy John’s are just a handful of the many chains that have made their customers ill. Currently, there’s a lawsuit pending for a couple accusing a Mexican restaurant of infecting them with salmonella.
For personal and private chefs, the importance of vigilance is two fold; as small business owners, the sole responsibility and liability falls on them. And unlike chefs working in public restaurants, personal and private chefs are subject to an initial inspection but may not be followed up on the same regular basis of safety inspections which restaurants are typically bound.
The Big Four
Most personal and private chefs, of course, are aware of potential food safety hazards. Proper cooking, storage, and cleaning all go a long way to prevent contamination. Even so, campylobacter, listeria, e coli, salmonella are all too common causes of food poisoning.
These pathogens alone account for a good portion of food poisoning complaints such as gastrointestinal distress and fever, and more severe symptoms like severe cramping, dehydration, and even muscle weakness.
The good news for private and personal chefs is that, by serving one client at a time and working with their own materials, they may have both time and awareness not as easily afforded to other chefs. Yet chances are, in remaining vigilant with proper food handling and basic cooking and storage safety guidelines, these chefs may be making mistakes that could still result in food poisoning.
Mistakes You Might be Making
Here are the mistakes you could be making and inviting these pathogens to the dinner table as a result:
You Rinse Without Thinking
Rinsing produce is almost always a good idea, but sometimes it isn’t enough. Naturally dirty produce, like mushrooms and leeks, should be gently scrubbed and sprayed with cold water to ensure it’s totally clean. Washing produce before it’s ready to be used is a surprising offender: doing so can encourage bacterial growth. Well meaning chefs may also rinse meat and poultry before it’s cooked. Don’t: not only will rinsing fail to get rid of all the potential pathogens (cooking does that), but rinsing raw meat in the sink also risks cross contamination.
You Use the Same Rag/ Scrub Brush
Attentive and busy chefs know that, for both practical and safety reasons, it’s advisable to clean while you work as much as possible. Have a go-to rag or other cleaning supply? You may be doing more harm than good. Even rinsing the rag in the sink will not prevent contamination. As a general rule, have several rags with you and do not reuse where there is a risk of spreading pathogens (particularly if you clean off an area that was used for raw meat). Even if you’re cleaning up vegetable scraps, be sure to clean the rag immediately after and thoroughly before it’s used again.
You Aren’t Careful When You Marinate
Marinating is important for building flavor, but it may also be a way to spread pathogens. Marinating on the counter instead of the refrigerator can encourage rapid pathogen growth, because room temperature is the perfect breeding grounds for pathogens. Another offender? Reusing marinade. Even if it’s for another raw meat, fresh marinade must always be prepared for a new dish.
You’re in too much of a Hurry
Sometimes slower is better, and that is certainly true when it comes to food preparation. Chefs with packed schedules may prioritize getting food in the cooler without thinking where it’s being placed: raw meat, especially chicken, should always be stored on the bottom shelf. Failing to do so could result in meat juices dripping and contaminating other food. Meat should always be sealed and preferably covered with plastic wrap or foil.