August 10: Always Store Ground Beef Above Poultry

After an unexceptional end to a mediocre road trip (turns out planning ahead has its merits), I returned home to a purposeless existence. On my road trip with Mico, I knew what I was supposed to do each day–rock climb. Not that this was a particularly lofty purpose, but it gave shape to each day just like college had before it. Knowing I could stomach a directionless existence for only so long and that a climbing habit requires an income source, I prioritized finding a job when I got home. It’s been my dream since I was in middle school, enjoying my first cups of coffee, to work as a barista. I picture myself working in a place filled with the bitter aroma of coffee, gracefully moving around an espresso machine, handing beautiful cups of latte art to eager customers, and watching caffeinated smiles lift their lips as they walk out the door.

Turns out I didn’t even need a job in order to find a purpose. A job search in and of itself can easily take over your life. As I searched for job openings at my favorite LA coffee shops, I came across the term “ServSafe” for the first time. The ServSafe California Food Handler Certification or equivalent is required of those who aspire to handle other people’s food in a commercial setting in the state of California. Like driver’s ed, I imagine that at one time this was a course people were required to take in a classroom setting. However, in the digital era, it’s the kind of course you take online. After watching a multicultural cast of people, united by poor acting skills and a tendency toward over-enunciation, detail the finer points of “keeping food safe” for two and a half hours, you get to take a learner’s permit style test (also online).

The course was divided into five sections, and each section began with a horror story about food service gone wrong–“boy ordered chocolate pudding for desert…” During the course, I learned things I never knew and would never have anticipated ever needing to know in my life. I learned that food should not be stored between 41 and 135 degrees fahrenheit as temperatures in this range are most friendly to bacteria growth. I learned that one should always close dumpster lids after use, that proper hand washing takes approximately 20 seconds, and that poultry requires a higher cooking temperature than steak or seafood (165, 145, and 145 degrees respectively). My favorite fact, however, the one that will stick with me even though it serves little practical use in my daily life, is the proper order to store food in order to prevent cross contamination. Ideally, you have a separate cold storage container for each type of food. The course, acknowledging that this would require many fridges, gave an alternative–storing the foods in order of how high a temperature they need to be cooked at. This results in the following order from top to bottom: ready to serve foods; whole cuts of beef, fish, pork; ground meat; and poultry. I know, good stuff. The course was almost worth $15 for entertainment value alone. Below is a screen shot of one of the friends I made during this process:

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I wonder if people on the street ever recognize him, go up to him, and say “hey, you’re that super chipper guy from the ServSafe videos who uses catch phrases like ‘yikes!'” Probably not, but one can always hope.

I passed my test with flying colors and, with ServSafe’s blessing, continued on my quest to become an LA-area barista.

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