One of the first things that struck me about my new internship is the fixation on cleanliness and sanitation. Welcome back to the good ol' USA, outbreaks of E. Coli and all. Still, I'm glad that we have such high sanitation standards here.
In France, I was amazed at how relaxed their standards were, both at school and during my one-week stage at the restaurant. Eggs aren't refrigerated. All our ingredients were loaded onto the same trays when we divided them up for students, so your raw chicken would probably end up nestled cosily next to the vegetables you were serving as a garnish. Your single cutting board was used for everything. The dishwashers (actual people) didn't use machines or sanitation devices- it was hand-scrubbing all the way. We were lucky if there was hot water, sponges, or dish soap. In fact, we were amazed when all three were present!
At the restaurant, things were slightly better but still gross. It would probably be very difficult to make myself eat at that restaurant knowing what went on downstairs. It wasn't filthy by any means, but not enough precautions were taken, and my bout of food poisoning in Paris really made me wary.
Fast forward to what I do now. I use so much plasticware it makes me guilty. But we use Ziploc bags, plastic containers, plastic wrap, gloves, and disinfectant to our hearts' content. I mise a lot in disposable plastic containers when things need to be prepared the night before. Leftover food is always stored in the new plastic containers- we never wash them or reuse them.
The dish room has a nice sanitation machine that cleans and sterilizes, producing spotless hot dishes. We use hot, soapy water to wipe down our stations, then spray sanitizer over the surface. The grates over the burners are washed every night, and we clean under them to make sure everything is clean and shiny. The two resident kitchen assistants go over the stainless steel surfaces with spray every night and ensure that everything is polished and not sticky.
There is hand soap at every sink. Any leftover food is always bagged or contained, then marked clearly with contents and date. The walk-in is well-organized, with chicken on the bottom rack, then beef and pork next, fish and cured products at the top. If you think about it, it makes sense- any accidental drippage that may come down will contaminate other products, so you should put the meat with the highest chance of bacteria on the lowest rack.
The simplest things amaze me. As interns, we put away the groceries that come in. Special care is always taken to put the newest items in the back. For example, if a new bag of onions needs to be added to the onion bucket, we empty the existing bucket out temporarily, place the new onions at the bottom, then cover it with the old ones so that those are used first. This applies to every other ingredient. It makes so much sense, yet at LCB, we constantly received rotten produce because no one took the time to do that. It still boggles my mind that a school which uses so much produce in one day, especially mirepoix, manages to give its students rotten carrots and shallots. Go figure.
Yesterday I bagged some leftover rice in a small Ziploc bag at home. My right hand instinctively reached for the blue Sharpie that I keep in my chef's jacket at work. Not having the Sharpie there was strange, as was not marking the contents of the bag and labeling pretty much everything I touched. In France they would have just laughed at me for marking things. And who uses plasticware en France? I don't care- hand me a Sharpie and a bottle of disinfectant!