Last week, I did a City and Guilds Level 2 in Food Hygiene and Safety. The driver to do this was part curiosity, but primarily to remove an obvious barrier to any promotional work I may want to do with my book launch etc. The piece of paper at the end discharges certain legal liabilities neatly if I were ever to do anything in a restaurant kitchen, for example.
Anyway, what I learned is that protein rich food is “high risk”, that food should be served with a core temperature of 75 degrees centigrade (83 degrees in Scotland) and cold food ideally at 5 degrees centigrade but not exceeding 8 degrees.
What. The. Actual. [Redacted Colourful Euphemism].
Serve me beef or lamb, for example, with a core temperature above 55-60 degrees centigrade (medium rare), I will be quite disappointed. 83 degrees is half way between well done and overcooked, so I pity the Scottish.
Cheese is widely accepted to be best served at room temperature; many definitions exist for this, but almost all fall into the range of 20 to 25 degrees centigrade. Serve me a classic French Camembert at 8 degrees, let alone 5 degrees, again, I am going to be severely disappointed. (In fact, so prevalent is the blind obedience by various British restauranteurs to the offending EU Directives that to avoid sitting at a table with my cheeseboard for 30 minutes before eating it, I insist they take it out of the fridge when they serve my starter!).
Cooked eggs are considered to be high risk; which is why you only ever get a bone dry omelette when dining out) and which is why they are always so unappetising in breakfast buffets – the minimum hot holding temperature for food in a buffet is 63 degrees centigrade. Egg yolk cogulates between 65 and 70 degrees centigrade, so that’s why your Premier Inn all you can eat Premier Breakfast is lacking in dippability! Oh, but in a concession, hot food can be held out at this temperature for 2 hours. TWO HOURS a fried egg can be left under lamps? I’d rather risk salmonella than eat that! Incidentally, when staying in a hotel where the breakfast isn’t prepared to order, my favourite trick is to ask for two poached eggs on toast. Most of the time, the breakfast chef (often an up and coming commis wanting to break through into more responsibility in lunch and dinner services) is only all too willing to show off his skills and appreciates the opportunity, which means a great breakfast for you!
I’ve even heard of restaurants asking customers to sign disclaimers before serving a steak blue, or even steak tartare. That’s as much an indictment of their lack of understanding the provenance of their meat as it is the legislature of the day, to be fair.
Anyway, what this whole experience has taught me, is that the stickers you see in pub and restaurant (and takeaway) windows, showing how many stars they have in a food safety rating may well be a decent indication of how overcooked and disappointing the meal will be!!!!