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BBC logoThe latest series of BBC1’s MasterChef, hosted by restaurateur John Torode and greengrocer Gregg Wallace, has hit the headlines with viewer accusations of poor kitchen hygiene.

The show’s finals will take place next week. Meanwhile, we, too, have also noticed men’s perspiration dripping into restaurant or mass catering dishes. Several of the women really should have pulled their hair back as it was hanging over pots and dinner plates.

You can read more about viewer observations on the BBC’s Points of View page. I’m less concerned about the different coloured plastic chopping boards than I am in their cleanliness. Over the past several years, today’s cooks, domestic science teachers and homemakers have been debating whether a petrochemical chopping board is superior to a wooden one. SpouseMouse and I have always used wooden ones. Our mothers and other antecedents did not have plastic boards in their day. We were always taught that chopping boards had to be cleaned thoroughly although wood has its own built-in disinfectant which kicks in two days later. Therefore, we do not see the merits of petrochemical boards, which do not have this disinfectant property. The key is to wash whatever cutting board one uses properly.

The hair and perspiration are indeed a trial to watch. The makers of MasterChef say that in the professional kitchens, hygiene standards were practiced. (Auntie Beeb is always right.) I’m not so sure. This is not the first time we in the mousehole have seen sweat and hair in places it should not have been. Even at home, I have to watch out for the rare stray hair. If we did have a perspiration problem, we would probably tie bandanas around our foreheads whilst cooking. Comments on the Yahoo! page indicate that in a hot kitchen, chef’s toques can make the head quite hot over a period of kitchen service.

Tasting with the same spoon and the licking of fingers also came up in the comments.  The series, whether with semi-professional or amateur contestants, generally lacks good examples for the aspiring cook. In addition to the aforementioned hygiene abominations, we rarely see contestants washing their hands. Nothing ever looks clean.

Meanwhile, at home, I’m careful not to touch my hair or face unless necessary. If I do, I then wash my hands. I don’t know how often I wash my hands, countertop and chopping boards in the space of a few hours when cooking. It seems to be a constant. My only sin is tasting with the same spoon, which I do my best to avoid when we’re having guests over for dinner.

In many respects, MasterChef — whilst entertaining — really should be showing us a good example. I’ve thought less and less of the food overall although Gregg and John do bang on about how competent their contestants are. However, a ‘good’ cook can still poison people with lax hygiene.

It’s time for MasterChef to add more information about kitchen hygiene. When I was young, I really trusted television. If I did something I saw on television which turned out to be ‘wrong’, my defence, honestly spoken, was that I’d seen it on telly. After all, telly people could never be wrong, otherwise they wouldn’t be appearing on our screens. Right?

I won’t have been the only person assuming that something uncriticised on television is right just because it is being broadcast.

Poor kitchen hygiene can be lethal.

Gregg and John would do well to address hygiene in subsequent by pointing out good examples: ‘Sarah’s now washing her hands because she’s just handled raw chicken’. That should certainly extend to MasterChef‘s other violations involving hair, perspiration and tasting.

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