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Twice in the past week or so, I've wondered whether my cooking utensil was still clean enough to cook / serve with. Here were the situations:

  • Cooking ground sausage (no casing). While breaking the sausage up, raw sausage clearly got on the back of the spoon. Over the course of cooking the sausage and later adding veggies, all visible traces of the raw meat disappeared. I finished up cooking, used the spoon to stir in some penne, and then served.

  • Candying some bacon. Put some bacon in the oven with some brown sugar on it. Used a fork to flip the bacon half way through. Then used the same fork to take the cooked bacon out of the pan and on to a rack.

Is this safe? When do I need to worry about contamination on my cooking utensils? What is sufficient to make the utensil safe again?

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Sentence construction pedant answer: I'm pretty sure it's impossible to cook utensils with raw meat, safely or otherwise. –  bikeboy389 Dec 20 '10 at 15:58
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To the "never ever let any raw meat utensil touch a cooked meat utensil" crowd answering, I have a serious question: Let's say you're making ground beef. You put the raw beef in the pan and stir it with a spatula. Two minutes later you stir it again. Then again, repeating until it's cooked. Each step of the way the meat is progressively less raw, but it isn't until the final stir that it's fully cooked and "safe". I'm curious, do you use a new spoon each time? It sounds like that's what most of the answers are saying, and that seems over the top to me. –  stephennmcdonald Dec 20 '10 at 16:02
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@bikerboy, HA! cooking is an adjective modifying utensils, not a verb! –  yossarian Dec 20 '10 at 17:10
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Incidentally, "candied bacon"! I have a few English friends living in the US and they moan most about bacon, it is such a savoury thing here. To the point a friend of mine who was coming back for Christmas had the following sequence of status updates: "... has 48 hours to bacon."; "... should probably start packing for his trip to have bacon."; "... has checked in for his bacon expedition."... LOL –  Orbling Dec 20 '10 at 18:20
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@Aaronut, I'd been drinking heavily when I asked these. –  yossarian Dec 20 '10 at 21:12

9 Answers 9

It depends on where you live. Each country has different meat diseases and bacterium that you have to be careful about

Traditionally in many western countries most meats are relatively safe raw though poultry is often not. But the definition of safe is not universal. Fresh chicken may have some salmonella etc, but unless this is allowed to grow to large numbers of spore it will not be dangerous. There are some bacteria that are dangerous in even minute amounts, but these should be vary rare, and even the cleanest cook will probably still transfer them

So to answer question, when cooking meat (or anything for that matter), you have to consider the amount of food adhering to the utensil, and the time it is exposed to a temperature in which bacteria can grow etc

If there was a formulae it would be something like

food type (risk of bacteria) * temperature * time

In general ground meat has been processed but not overly preserved, so time starts becoming a factor. How long has it been in a warm environment? Bacon is heavily preserved and not a great bacteria home, so you have more time before it becomes a risk. I small smear of bacon juice on a fork is not going to create a dangerous level of bacteria in the 20 minutes it takes you to cook the dish. But I wouldn't risk it for Chicken (in my country due to campylobacter still being a problem)

In the home environment I give anything that has touched raw food a quick rinse under the tap (Which just happens to be collected rain water and therefore full of bird poo :-) ) and sometimes a mechanical scrub with the dishes brush before using it again in the cooking process

There are lots of old wives tales on kitchen cleanliness, but the end result is that bacteria needs water, food, and temperature to grow. If you remove most of these they can't multiple to dangerous levels

From my experience in food technology laboratories, the often overlooked problem is surface oil and fat. These trap water, food and bacteria (the perfect storm). Simple mechanical scrubbing will remove vast amounts of these for short term (period of cooking) cleanliness

This of course does not apply to food that must be cooked for non bacterial reasons, and food known to be unclean. Chicken again is typical of this, and I would hot water scrub everything used with raw or partially cooked chicken

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Commercial kitchens use one set for raw and one for cooked.

You pick up the raw with one set and you'll move it around the pan but once it hits the oven you don't touch it again until it's 3/4 done and by that time you should be using the cooked meat tongs.

With a stir fry, you'd toss items in using raw food utensils and maybe move it around slightly but then once the meat is cooked you'll mess around with a different utensil again. Usually a broad metal spatula.

At home I have one set of tongs. I pick up meat with them and put it in the pan with them. I'll flip the meat over and then toss the pan in the oven. Once the meat hits the oven I wash the tongs with a spray bottle of bleach and soap and pack away all cutting boards that had any raw meat on them. After that my work area is a raw meat free zone.

I think I'm being overly cautious but it's a good habit I got myself into and it'll save me one day an I won't even know it.

Does that help?

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Answer comes from the merged question cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/22249/…; I thought this info on commercial kitchens fits here, even though there are so many answers already. –  rumtscho Mar 14 '12 at 10:09

I use two sets of tongs on the barbecue. One has a blue rubber grip, and the other has a red grip. Blue and raw meat go on the left side of the BBQ, and red and cooked meat go on the right. I'm pretty diligent about the raw-left cooked-right transition.

I'll use the blue tongs until the meat is seared on both sides, and then switch to the red.

When cooking on the stove, I find it easier just to wash my utensil when the food hits the crossover point.

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I my self do it the same as you. I cook up some ground meat in a pan, add sauce to it when it is cooked and use the same utensil the whole time. I've never gotten sick from doing it this way. But I do like to cook the meat at least 5 minutes after it is fully cooked, just to make sure. I figure the extra time, with the hot heat on the utensil is enough to make sure that the juices on the the utensil are heated up enough to kill everything off.

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That was always my feeling as well. –  Kyle Hayes Dec 20 at 6:10

A rule of thumb for myself, is a utensil that touches raw meat should never touch anything else until cleaned. This prevents cross contamination. It just creeps me out not too.

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After cooking raw meat, I tend to bleach the utensils before cleaning them twice with soap and hot water.

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The bacon is no big deal, because it is cured. However, the spoon used to cook the sausage could/will be carrying some really nasty stuff until it is either cleaned, or the material on the spoon is suffieciently heated to kill those nasties. Best to cook the sausage, remove, then add it to the veggies at the end of the cook cycle for the veggies, then finish with the penne.

Any time you cook meat from raw, always clean the utensil, and do not continue to use it until it is cleaned.

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I'm pretty sure a lot of bacon isn't really cured, just flavored. –  derobert Dec 21 '10 at 21:12

I'm always really bad about remembering which spoon was used when in the cooking process. I went out and got a lot of wooden spoons (hey their cheap) and keep them in a crock by the stove. When ever I use one I chuck it in the sink so I don't have to remember if it was used on raw meat or cooked meat. There are times where I'll use 8 or more but I have more than a dozen, and they are easy to clean.

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The key is that you want to kill any possible pathogens that may have existed on the raw food, and been transferred to your utensils.

If your tongs come in contact with raw food, and continually stir the food until it's cooked, most likely any pathogens on the utensil will not have been heated enough to kill them, simply by stirring. Unless you're cooking in boiling water (or deep frying), such that any surface on your utensils that came in contact with raw food has been heated above ~165°F, there's still a chance that pathogens may exist on your utensils, and be transferred back to your cooked food.

So to be safe, use separate utensils, or wash thoroughly to avoid cross-contamination.

Of course, the real danger depends on the source of your raw food, and whether it is actually contaminated, etc... Thus most food safety practices are just to be safe. Much raw food is perfectly safe to eat--it's just impossible to tell which is, and which isn't, by looking.

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