vegetables on a table

Cross food contamination, a common problem in Gran Canaria

I was working in London, some years ago, when I became allergic to capsaicin, a component found in chili, paprika and curry.
From that day everything slightly changed.
I had to be careful for the first time in my life.

When you start training to become a chef every school is very careful to teach you about cross contamination (the physical movement or transfer of harmful bacteria from one person, object or place to another). Not only is this argument always included in your studies, also the law requires you to know about this topic.

In Spain the certification required to work in a kitchen is called “Certificado de Manipulador de Alimentos”. The course is very basic and easy to follow with a final exam that you can take online. When the kitchen starts to have a certain number of employees the chef in charge is required to pass a more complicated exam regarding food safety.

Despite these introductions and guidelines about food safety procedures many chefs end up in sloppy kitchens where, because of a messy service, or because of the lack of seriousness, cross contamination happens every day.

I personally struggle to eat outside in Gran Canaria because even a sandwich mixto (two slices of bread with cheese and ham) can be a problem for me. You might think I exaggerate but it happened quite often that after serving the sandwich sliced in two on the plate I could notice something red where the blade did its job, often paprika sauce or chili sauce, which meant that they were using the same knife for slicing what I am allergic to.

This also happens in high end restaurants.
I was in a “good” restaurant in the south some time ago, one of those places where you pay 150-200€ per couple.
Before reserving I informed the venue about my allergy, and once there I mentioned it again.
Of course one of the dishes I was served was beef with potatoes in paprika sauce. Luckily I didn’t touch the dish because I noticed in advance the red color. I heard one “sorry”.
They haven’t seen me since then.

The same experience happened also in a famous meat restaurant in Las Palmas, where I ordered the grilled cheese and I got it with sparkles of chili and chili oil on it.
The main dish was served with a foam of paprika they forgot to remove. It was embarrassing to repeat at every dish I was allergic to paprika and chili but maybe that’s part of the experience?

I was lucky enough to work in very high end kitchens and for me cleaning tools, cutting boards, bowls or so after every preparation using the dishwashing machine was mandatory. I have the same habit in Bakery de Stefano. Everything I use passes through an Electrolux tool-washing machine that is set to 85º and uses a special acid for deep cleaning.

Until now my allergic reaction has been very mild, but I think of all those people who have extreme reactions with peanuts, gluten, sesame, fennel, shellfish.
I understand it takes time to clean and dry properly your tools, to walk back and forth to change a cutting board or mixing bowls, but it is not a big effort compared to what it could lead to.
We are feeding people to make them happy, not to make them worried.

In Bakery de Stefano you will see the kitchen through every glass, with every surface and tool properly cleaned. There is never mess because each preparation has to be tidy from the start until the end.
A great recipe does not only depend on its ingredients or end result, it is also about how well you kept everything neat during its preparation.

These thoughts are for all those who work in a kitchen.
Serve your customers the way you would want to be served, starting from today.

Flavio de Stefano

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