As I revealed in this blog, I'm a queasy cooker of meat at the best of times: "Roast chicken? Delicious. Having to acknowledge we're eating dead animals? Kind of gruesome."
For some reason I can't shake the knowledge that this mass of skin, muscle and bone before me used to belong to a sentient being. Other people are far more successful at separating troublesome thought processes from mouth-watering meals than I am.
At a guess I'd say I cook meat maybe once a month. Chicken, of course, should be my go-to species. They're just birds, for crying out loud - and not nearly as cute as lambs, as placid as cows or as pink as pigs.
Yet chicken is not top of my list of meats to cook. I bring raw chicken into the house about twice a year. And when I do, my kitchen goes into virtual lockdown. I go to extreme lengths to ensure the raw chicken does not make us ill.
I wear disposable gloves, put multiple layers of paper-towels over the bench-tops and on the chopping board. I hold the meat at arm's length. Once the offending chook is in the oven, the decontamination procedure begins. The gloves, paper-towels and Chux cloth are thrown out. The tap, sink and bench-tops are attacked with a household spray-cleaner. Any tea-towels that were in the vicinity are put straight into the washing-machine. I wash my hands several times.
It was the chicken industry itself which put the fear of chicken into me in the first place. Tegel's website says: "Cross contamination can be a major cause of food-borne illnesses. Wash and dry knives and chopping boards thoroughly in hot soapy water, and make sure cloths are rinsed frequently in hot, soapy water."
My thinking was that if such warnings are coming from a supplier (which surely has an interest in playing down how hazardous their products could be if handled incorrectly) then these birds must be an accident waiting to happen. Such a rationale spawned my own exaggerated precautions.
To the untrained eye such measures may have seemed over-the-top but my labour-intensive chicken rituals became far less eccentric upon the publication of this story in which it was revealed that the British Food Standards Agency advised consumers to stop washing chickens since "the splashing of water droplets" could "spread campylobacter bacteria on to hands, work surfaces, clothing and cooking equipment".
It's a view supported locally by Tegel: "Contrary to rumours, it is not a good idea to wash your chicken before cooking it. When washing the bird, water can easily be sprayed around the kitchen, unwittingly causing cross-contamination of surfaces up to two metres away."
I've washed a couple of chickens before. Needless to say I won't be again. In addition to treating my kitchen like a virtual operating theatre, I have other ways of minimising exposure to the dreaded ingredient known as raw chicken. If I do a stir-fry I ask the butcher to chop it up for me thus preventing the contamination of knife blades, surfaces, disposable gloves and umpteen layers of paper-towels at home. If I buy a whole chicken breast from the supermarket I put it in the oven as fast as possible and don't slice it until it's cooked.
I have been tempted (so tempted) by those bags of pre-packaged whole chickens that are "ready to roast" with no further fanfare. They're appealing, of course, but I must shun them because I've not yet found a free-range variety. (I like my chickens to have enjoyed a fulfilled life before they're slaughtered. What can I say? I'm sentimental like that.)
The short story is, in light of the British Food Standards Agency's declaration of where campylobacter bacteria can potentially spread to, I feel vindicated about my cautious measures. The only problem is that (while I knew about hands, work surfaces and cooking equipment) I'd not considered that clothing was also in the firing line. Now I'm going to need a decontamination suit to protect me from raw chicken. Staying bacteria-free isn't easy. Nor is making the leap of faith necessary to dish up a product that earlier had posed a health risk.
What precautions do you take to prevent "cross contamination"?