Berry Clean

If you have not heard about this year’s flu season and the rising number of people who have contracted the swine flu (or H1N1), then you might be living under a rock. We all know the importance of sneezing into your elbow, staying home when you are sick, and making sure to religiously wash your hands, regardless of your health. But I think its all too easy to get into a lazy habit when it comes to food safety and sanitation, especially in a classroom.

While I am currently still at home in Michigan and will not be starting another lab until next trimester, I still have my share of memories of students doing some pretty revolting things. So, in spirit of everyone staying healthy here are some stories of what not to do when cooking.

30 Minute Rule
It was in the middle of ‘pie month’ during my Hot and Cold desserts class. Most of us has made enough pie dough to last for the rest of our lives, so for that portion of the class our teacher would wander the halls. Everyone at my table, including myself, would mindlessly make pie crust, then wrap it up and put it in the fridge for later use that day. This was common at most tables on most days, with the exception of the table directly behind ours which I could easily see. On this day, the one lone male student in our class was having trouble with the crust as usual. He promptly dropped his entire ball of dough and it rolled under his table about 30 feet and stopped under the oven. He could not see it but I easily could. He quickly looked around nervously to make sure no one saw him and tried to coolly look for the dough. He couldn’t find it, and I did not have the heart to embarrass the poor kid more and did not say anything.

He preceded to make a new dough but forgot a key ingredient…ice water…and it did not turn out right. So, after about a half hour of him messing around he finally bent down to pick up his notebook and saw the original ball of dough. He quickly picked up the now melting ball of dough, mashed it around a few times. dirt and all, then wrapped it up and placed it in the fridge. No one else seemed to notice his unevenly rolled out dough that looked more like marble and thankfully turned into carbon in the oven. During a conversation weeks later I confessed that I had watched him the whole time. He blushed and tried to play it off like he burned the 12 pies on purpose because he knew they were not good to eat. Sure.

I’m Not Sick
At Johnson and Wales, when you are in Baking and Pastry labs you are only allowed 3 missed days, on the fourth day you will be dropped from the class. Also, most teachers take points off if you are absent. Because of this, most students, myself included, try to tough it out during class if you are sick versus taking the day off.

During the same class of Hot and Cold desserts, a friend of mine came in with a very bad cold. When she shuffled in you could easily see her puffy sagging eyes and unpressed uniform. She was carrying a handkerchief and kept sniffling. I felt terrible for her. I know she is the type of person that is never late, never misses class, and always gets great grades. She spent most of the day in and out of the bathroom, coughing and blowing her nose. The chef was concerned but my friend kept on saying that she was not sick and would not go home, even though she probably should have.

All of our hands were covered with food as we were making various cookies by hand. It was obvious that both of her hands were dirty as I heard a sneeze and saw her standing with her hands out and apart like she was going to hug someone. Everyone stopped and turned to stare as she sneezed a good 8 times in a row, onto 3 full sheet pans of perfectly rolled cookies. She never once turned her head, sneezed into her arms, or ran to another part of the kitchen. She just keep sneezing again and again on the cookies. Thankfully all 3 trays of cookies were tossed, but I am pretty sure her neighbors cookies made it in. Ew.

Berry Juice?
I still cannot get this picture out of my head. During Classical French Pastries class we were all working on our various products, some were mixing, some scaling, and some chopping up nuts and fruits. The same clumsy lone male from above was chopping nuts at the table next to me. I could hear him showing off for a pretty girl at his table, chopping loudly with one hand on the knife and the other on the food like he was trying to hack up fire-wood.

I stopped when I heard a loud gasp and near scream from the pretty girl at his table. He wasn’t paying attention and accidentally chopped off 2 of his fingertips! They lay on the wooden cutting board, blood all over a large pile of strawberries he had just cut.

I have this natural nurse part of me, so while everyone was running around with their heads chopped off, I helped the poor kid out and wrapped up his hand. The school nurse and a team of paramedics took him off with his fingertips in a little bowl of ice, leaving behind his cutting board along with the mound of strawberries. After the room calmed down, I saw someone at his table swiftly pick up his cutting board and using the back of the knife swipe down the board and plop the berries and “berry juice” into a sauce pan filled with jam.

I quickly stopped the girl and made her throw it out, explaining that there was blood in it. She rolled her eyes and complained about having to re-do the entire batch. Well, at least it was minus the human element.

Hopefully these and any other unhealthy sanitation practices do not happen on a regular basis. I try to think that every restaurant that I eat at follows sanitation rules to a ‘T’. I hope you don’t get sick this flu season, and especially not in any of the ways above.