Monday, September 14, 2009

Food Safety - Handling Food

With the diversity of event and feast conditions that we work with in the SCA it makes sense that that a review basic food handling procedures in order to keep food-born illnesses at bay. This article focuses on food temperatures and a few quick tips for handling food outdoors (and in feast kitchens!).

Time and temperature control is incredibly important when it comes to food. If food is not properly held at the right temperature there is a good chance that any present bacteria will multiply on the food and cause a food-born illness. Time and temperature control is especially important when we store food in coolers, are cooking outdoors, and using water of unknown quality to wash our dishes.

Cold Food
-Cold food should be held under 41 degrees
-Cooler Tips:
-Make sure it is clean and sanitized before putting food into it.
-Make sure you have ample ice in your cooler to keep your food cold, and make sure that the coolness from the ice reaches all of your food (keep it distributed or centralized in the cooler).
-Make sure you have a tight seal on your cooler to keep the cold in and the hot out.
-Use a thermometer to make sure your cooler is the right temp-erature. You can get them cheaply at most stores.
-Keep your cooler in a cool shady place (at least as cool and shady as you can find!)
-Keep your food in water-tight containers.

Thawing Food
Four Methods
-Under running water (less than 70 degrees)
-Microwave, if cooking immediately

Internal Cooking Temperatures
165 for 15 seconds Poultry, stuffed meat, stuffing, dishes that
include food that has previously been cooked
155 for 15 seconds ground meat, injected meat, eggs to be hot held
145 for 15 seconds seafood, steaks, chops, eggs served immediately
145 for 4 minutes roasts
135 commercially processed foods, fruits, veggies, grains, legumes.

Holding Food Outdoors - Tips
Temperature sensitive foods should not be held outdoors for more than two hours (or more than one hour if it is above 90 degrees).
-Food that has been set out for service should be thrown away if it passes the time limit on outdoor food holding.
HOT Foods:
-Should be kept above 140 degrees
-Hold on the warm side of the grill or in an insulated container until service.
COLD Foods:
-Should be kept below 40 degrees
-Dishes can be set on/in a container of ice to keep the food cold. -Ensure that water from the melting ice does not contaminate the food.
-Drain off water from ice periodically and replace with fresh ice

Cooling food
-Food must come from 135 to 70 degrees within 2 hours of taking off heat.
-Food must be cooled from 70 – 41 degrees within 4 hours
-Recommended methods for cooling food: ice bath
**This means you have at max 6 hours to cool your food to 41 degrees
*Don’t put hot food directly into your cold cooler!

Reheating food
-Food that is reheated needs to reach 165 degrees within 2 hours
-Reheated food that is not consumed should be thrown away.

Additional Information:
FDA’s web site on picnicking outdoors:

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Contaminants are large contributing factor to food-born illness. A contaminant,
as you may have guessed, is any object or particle that does not belong in your food (so basically, if it is not food and it is in your food it is a contaminant). Contaminants can be things we can see, but they can also things too small for our eyes to see. There are three types of contaminants;
biological, chemical and physical.

Biological contaminants are generally pathogens, but also come in the form of mold, spores, fermentation, and worms.

Biological contaminants can be avoided by purchasing food from reputable
vendors, ensuring time and temperature control, and by preventing cross contamination (hygiene!).

Chemical contaminants often occur in two types of situations. The first is that household chemicals are not properly stored. They should be kept in cabinets or tubs, away from food and food preparation areas, to avoid contact with food. Chemicals can also contaminate food by being used in concentrations higher than recommended. Be sure to read the label on all chemical containers. Also, some chemical reactions occur when certain foods come in contact with certain types of metals, for example, tomatoes and copper. Make sure to be aware of the metals in your kitchen and how you are using them.

Physical Contaminants are foreign objects that can be seen in the food (as long as they are large enough to see). Take care when opening cans (paper and metal filings can fall into your food), washing dishes (scrubbing
implements can “shed”), and to wash hands thoroughly and be careful
of your fingernails and any bandages.

More next time on how to prevent your food from being contaminated!

Food Safety - Tips for Food Storage

Food and cook/serving ware should never be stored on the floor.

All kitchen items (food, utensils, etc) should be stored 6” from off the floor. This protects your food/equipment from outside contaminants such as pests and spills (not to mention being stepped on!)

Food should only be stored in food-grade containers such as Ziplock bags or Tupperware. Storing food in containers not made for food could allow your food to pick up any harmful chemicals in the container
you are using.

Always make sure you clean and sanitize your containers before you use them!
Storing Food in refrigerators:

-There is a specific order in which food should be stored which is based on the internal cooking temperatures of each particular kind of food - the higher the internal cooking temperature, the lower you place it in the refrigerator. The reasoning for this is that if anything should drip from an upper shelf to a lower shelf, the dripping will be cooked at a temperature higher than the temp it needs to be considered “safe.”

Top Shelf: Ready to eat food
2nd Shelf: Seafood
3rd Shelf: Whole cuts of meat
4th Shelf: Ground Meat
Bottom Shelf: Whole and ground poultry

If you need to, you can store seafood with whole cuts of meat, as their internal cooking temperatures are the same.

Updates! Yay!

Okay - so first I am going to update a few back-logged articles on Food Safety in the SCA - then (in about a week, I hope) I am going to get all the pictures and results of the pig head experiment - then I will be getting some of the research I have been wanting to work on uploaded.

Wish me luck! :)

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Tale of the Fire-Breathing Boar - Part 1

... or, at least his head. Body to come later.

Let's start here. An entrement. To sum up the translation, in case you don't want to muddle through the link, You take hogs/boars heads and prop their mouths open with sticks, boil them, paint their foreheads with the arms of the lord the animal is being presented to, re-attach to the body on the spit, let brown a bit, insert candle with cotton soaked in alcohol and camphor, light it, and send it out.

Awesome! I have been wanting to do this, and now with the go ahead to have it presented at my next feast, I set out to experiment.

I went a bit out of order on the steps and actually experimented with the fire before painting and baking him (I really just wanted to play with fire!).

So, we begin with the head, purchased at Jungle Jim's:

First things first, I set to singing off the hair.

Look at the teeth!... they were actually just broken and dirty. The instructions say to clean the front teeth for presentation... my hog head was missing most of his front teeth.

I tried to pull his jaw open to get the sticks in, but he was still partially frozen, so I tried to defrost him a bit...

... this ended up not working out so well, so I eventually just stuck him in the sink with the faucet running on him.

Once defrosted (mostly, I was getting impatient and it is just a test run), he was pretty squishy to the touch. I then put him in my giant pot of hot water to cook.

Mr Pig after his bath:

His skin darkened up quite a bit and became much more firm and rubbery. His fatty fleshy parts (all the meat and such inside) were enlarged and spongy. Areas that had been cut when he was butchered also stretched when he cooked.

Since the back of his head had enlarged and "split apart" more, and he looked like a huge fat pig head, I decided to try to sew him back together a bit, just to tighten him up. I used a regular needle and thread (I was hoping to use button thread, but I am apparently out). I also sewed his ears back on to his head, since they were only sort of hanging off his forehead.

Next I set about propping his mouth open. I couldn't do this before he was cooked, since he was still kind of solid. I had a time of prying his mouth apart, but it worked out, and I was able to use short Popsicle sticks to hold it open.

So the stitches eventually ripped out of the back of his head and i was forced to more drastic measures... I needed something larger to hold the flesh together, so I went in search of my bamboo skewers, they, however, apparently ran off with the button thread, so I broke down and used an old pencil and duct tape as end caps.

It worked like a charm!

Pig head, mouth propped open, and side flesh pulled back, where it belongs:


I jumped the gun a bit and decided to play with fire before painting and baking the head.

General mess of stuff I used to experiment with to produce flames: Tea lights, cotton balls, 151 Vodka. For the camphor the only ways I could find it conveniently is in two forms: it is used in in Campho-Phenique (about 9% camphor mixed with phenol), which is a liquid anti-burn topical serum. The other place I found it was in Mentholatum® Ointment (about 10% camphor, mixed with menthol) which is supposed to be for dry skin, but i found it with the Vicks Vapor Rub.

After playing a bit with both of them I have decided that the effects are pretty much the same. The ointment seemed to last longer, and the serum gave off more popping noise.

I soaked the cotton balls in the vodka, and then put a bit of the camphor on, put it in the mouth and lit it. It burned for a good few minutes, with just one cotton ball. Over the next few weeks I am going to work on seeing if I can manage to wick the cotton into a small reservoir of the vodka to keep it fueling for a while.

Check out the awesomeness (some of the pictures are a bit dim, I apologize):

Painting the forehead:

As directed, I used mashed parsley and egg whites for the green, and ground saffron with egg yolk for red. The saffron would work beautifully for red, had I felt like dedicating my entire stash to the cause, but since I didn't I used a drop of red coloring. Please note, I was just checking on how the color would turn out in this experiment. I applied the color with my finger, attempting to make it vaguely look like the Midrealm Arms.

After baking for half an hour: The color is solid on the forehead of the pig.

Since the head is supposed to be attached to the body I am going to create a body for the pig, using pastry. I am going to experiment with making a form for it (paper mache and clay have been suggested) and lay the pastry over the top. The body is going to be a bit undersized, as I need it to fit into an oven to bake.

I will also mostly likely decorate the entire thing with banners, etc, for the presentation. I am also considering sewing the back before cooking it, to see if that makes a difference. This will depend, of course, on if the next one is as cut up as this one was.

Part 2: The creation of the body, coming soon.

The End...

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Food Safety - Personal Hygiene

Personal Hygiene is one of the key factors in food safety. This is an easy item to address and maintain as well. Basic guidelines as follows (as recommended by the FDA, and enforced by the State of Ohio).

-Clothing & Accessories: Clothing should be clean and should not be loose so that it could fall into food or fires. Jewelry should be kept to a minimum (it is recommended that the only jewelry should be a plain band ring, though, for SCA purposes anything that will not fall into or become soiled in food is generally okay). Hair should be restrained by a hair net or hat, and beard-nets should be worn if necessary.

-Personal Cleanliness: People helping in the kitchen should be clean (fighter-funk and mud free is a good thing in a kitchen). Fingernails should be clean, unpolished, and non-acrylic. Also, eating, drinking, smoking, and chewing gum/tobacco should be limited/excluded from the kitchen.

Hand washing: Hand washing is the key component of personal hygiene in food service. Hands should be washed and the beginning and end of any task, when changing tasks and/or gloves, after eating/smoking/using the rest room, and after touching the face or a wound, sneezing, taking out the trash, clearing dishes, or handling foreign objects (money, weapons, etc).

Gloves: Generally speaking, gloves should be worn handling ready-to-eat food, as well as when working with raw meat. Gloves should always be worn over a bandage on the finger or hand. Gloves should be changed when soiled or torn, when changing tasks, at least every four hours during continuous use, and before handling ready-to-eat food.

Illnesses: Major commonsense on this one! If you are sick, stay out of the kitchen!

First Post - Basic Plans...

First off, I would like to make a brief introduction about this article. To begin, let’s talk on the subject of commonplace books. “Commonplace books (or commonplaces) emerged in the 15th century with the availability of cheap paper for writing, mainly in England. They were a way to compile knowledge, usually by writing information into books. They were essentially scrapbooks filled with items of every kind: medical recipes, quotes, letters, poems, tables of weights and measures, proverbs, prayers, legal formulae. Commonplaces were used by readers, writers, students, and humanists as an aid for remembering useful concepts or facts they had learned. Each commonplace book was unique to its creator’s particular interests.”
From Wikipedia - (I know, not a very reliable source, but it provides a nice description)

This blog is my modern-day commonplace book.

With that said, my plan for this blog to write on the subject of cooking, both in period, and modern applications of cooking to the SCA. Subjects may change from month to month, or follow a theme for a while. One topic I would like to address in the course of a few articles is on modern food safety in relation to food service in the SCA. This has become an increasing concern to the Society over the last couple of years. Our organization is recognizing the constraints of the “mundane” world, and my hope is that features in this article will help to ease the stresses of meeting the external requirements.

For additional information or questions please feel free to contact me at, or visit my website at