Kitchen crimes: bad kitchen habits that drive us crazy!

Tea bags in the sink, crumbs in the butter, how other people’s kitchen habits make us cross. Plus some do’s and don’ts from olive’s experts along with some great recipes. Written by Tony Naylor.



Keep tomatoes in the fridge

True, they might stay fresh a little longer in there, but says Booths’ veg buyer, Chris Treble: ‘Chilling damages the cell membranes causing the tomato to develop a mealy texture. It also inhibits enzyme activity, which can lead to a lower production of volatile compounds which affect flavour.’ In short, if you want them to taste like tomatoes, they need to be warm when you eat them. Not fridge-cold and flavourless. (Try our delicious stuffed tomato recipe)

Use knives to chop on glass, marble or granite work surfaces

‘Ultimately, it can damage the blade,’ says Paul de Bretton Gordon, design director at high-end manufacturer, Robert Welch. ‘It is always advisable to use a smooth surface such as a wood or acrylic chopping board.’

…nor chuck that wooden chopping board in the dishwasher

‘Wood is hydroscopic so it absorbs water which causes it to crack and warp as it dries,’ explains the Oak Chopping Board Co.’s John Tett. Buy a good board, treat it with food-safe mineral oil (200ml, around £8) and it will last 20 years. theoakchoppingboardco.co.uk

Rinse chicken before you cook it

A staple instruction in old-fashioned cookery books (often because publishers disliked oil or butter being the first ingredient in a recipe, preferring: ‘First, untie the chicken’s legs and rinse…’), this established itself in the national consciousness as a safety measure against food poisoning. In fact, the exact opposite is true. ‘Two-thirds of UK poultryis contaminated with campylobacter, thebiggest cause of food poisoning,’ reportsa Food Standards Agency spokesperson. ‘Cooking poultry properly kills all bugs,but washing risks splashing any bugs onto kitchen surfaces and utensils.’ You’vebeen told: turn off the tap. (Try our exotic chicken breast recipe)

Use metal utensils in non-stick pans

Are you married to someone who uses a metal spatula in your best non-sticks? Then olive will happily testify in the inevitable divorce proceedings. Such idiocy splits the non-stick coating, allowing oil and heat in, and can quickly ruin your pans. Says Veronica Davidson, Lakeland’s cookware buyer: ‘Use silicone utensils and don’t stack pans inside each other.’


Lock your garlic away

If you put garlic in a dark pot or worse a damp, cold salad drawer, says the South West Garlic Farm’s Mark Botwright, the bulb thinks it has been replanted, begins to sprout and ‘eats itself to gain energy’. Instead: ‘Store it in the light on the kitchen windowsill. It’ll happily stay like that for up to four months.’

Leave your beer in the sun

‘When UV light hits beer it triggers a photochemical reaction in the hops that produces sulphurous flavours and aromas similar to a skunk’s defensive spray – which is why its known as “skunking”,’ explains Jamie Hancock, brewer at Five-Oh Brew Co. and assistant at specialist beer store, Beermoth. ‘Beer is predominantly sold in brown bottles to minimise that UV penetration and we wouldn’t recommend buying beer in clear or green bottles.’

Give courgettes and cucumbers the cold shoulder

‘Under 8C,’ says Waitrose expert, Alan Wilson, ‘the tender skins shrivel or rot quicker than usual.’ Rescue them from the fridge. (Try our recipe for courgette pizzas!)

Use a boning knife for chopping

It is not just pedantry. That flexible blade isn’t built for the job. Put undue pressure on it and it may snap.

Incinerate your pork

Due to fears over the roundworm or trichinella spiralis parasite, Britain has traditionally overcooked pork. However, the risk says Andrew Sharp, butchery tutor at the School of Artisan Food is now extremely rare. ‘To my knowledge, there hasn’t been a UK case for 40 years, and it’s mostly found in older pigs, not retail butcher’s pork.’ Pork can contain other bugs (bacteria, hepatitis E etc.), but the Food Standards Agency advises pork need only be cooked until, ‘steaming hot throughout, the meat is no longer pink and the juices run clear.’ There is no need to nuke it. (Try our recipe for Vietnamese caramel pork)

Debag your carrots (and other root veg)

It is a shopping ritual, isn’t it? Freeing your carrots from those apparently unnecessary, sweaty plastic bags, but it is totally misguided. ‘The low humidity of the fridge dehydrates root vegetables, a polythene bag preserves life,’ says Booths’ supermarket fresh produce buyer, Chris

Treble, adding that, ‘larders are usually too warm to keep root crops fresh.’ M&S technologist, Matt O’Hagan, concurs: ‘These days, most packaging is designed specifically for each product and many film bags have “modified atmosphere” capability.’ (Try our recipe for glazed carrots.)

Store wine in the fridge door

If you have a bottle open, the cold will delay ‘the oxidation which ultimately kills wine’, explains Saturday Kitchen Live wine expert,

Jane Parkinson. But, the fridge door is no place to store wine long-term. Light, heavy vibration and variations in temperature all break down ‘the organic compounds which contribute flavour and aroma’.


Hide your olive oil away

The Italians knew it somehow and, in 2012, a three-year study co-funded by Australia’s Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, confirmed it: direct light, heat and air all degrade the delicious flavour compounds found in extra virgin olive oils. UV light is deadly to them (it causes photooxidation), so either buy oil in tins or keep your bottles in the cupboard with the lid screwed tight. Angus Ferguson of the liquid deli group, Demijohn, warns: ‘Never buy oil that’s been displayed in the shop window.’

Chill out over eggs

The quality and freshness of eggs suffers if they experience fluctuations in temperature. Keep them boxed at the back of the fridge, where the temperature is constant, which further inhibits microbial growth. ‘It also ensures, the eggs do not pick up taints (the shells are porous) from other pungent foods,’ says Waitrose eggs buyer, Frances Westerman. However, bring them up to room temperature before cooking. Chilled eggs have poor flavour and behave badly (shells cracking in boiling water). (Why not try these cute ham and eggs cups?)

Lock your spices down tight

‘Spices are packed full of potent flavours and aromas because of their volatile oils,’ enthuses Axel Steenberg, owner of spice specialists Steenberg’s. ‘For instance, eugenol is vital to the camphorous intensity of cloves. Those volatile oils evaporate at room temperature and without proper storage will just waft away, leaving flavourless husks. Thin plastic bags, cellophane or cardboard do not lock oils in. Use sealed glass, tin or stainless steel containers.’ The special pouches that some spices come in also work well.

Park your potatoes in the garage

They’re alive! They’re alive! Yes, unlike most vegetables, potatoes are, as Sainsbury’s buyer Julien Roberts explains: ‘Alive and trying to grow into new plants.’ Store them in a breathable paper or a hessian bag, somewhere cool (8C – 12C, preferably), so they don’t begin to sprout, but not in the fridge where the cold will begin to turn their starches into sugars. No-one wants sweet mash, do they? Alan Wilson, Waitrose’s technical manager of agronomy, insists potatoes need to be kept in the dark, too: ‘To prevent them turning green and a potential build-up of glycoalkaloids forming, which cause a bitter taste when cooked.’

Give your coffee some cupboard love

‘Air is your enemy,’ says Paul Meikle- Janney, a director of West Yorkshire roasters, Dark Woods Coffee. ‘Oxidisation leaves a stale woody flavour and moisture leads to mould growth.’ Preferably, grind whole beans fresh per cup and, after, wind the bag down, pushing out the air, sealing it with an elastic band. ‘Keep it in a cool dark cupboard, not the fridge.’ (Here’s our heavenly recipe for coffee cake with pecan brittle.)

Wash your (carbon steel) wok by hand

‘Be careful,’ advises Veronica Davidson, Lakeland’s cookware buyer. ‘Essentially, they’re raw steel which will rust in the dishwasher.’ Hand wash then gently heat the wok on the hob to thoroughly dry it. Lightly coat with oil before storing.


Putting bread in the fridge keeps it fresh

In fact, as Wayne Caddy, head of baking at the School of Artisan Food reveals, it: ‘Dramatically speeds up staling. Most Western European bread contains wheat flour starch which in baking is broken down until it has no defined structure, achieving bread’s soft, open crumb texture. Over time, bread loses moisture and the starch reverts to its crystalline form (this is called retrogradation), which is why bread becomes firm and grainy. Chilling it accelerates that process.’

The five second rule

Everyone knows if you drop food but pick it up within five seconds it is fine to eat, right? ‘Alas,’ responds a Food Standards Agency spokesperson, ‘there’s no truth in this. If there is one place your food is most likely to pick up bugs, it’s on the floor.’

You should never wrap cheese in clingfilm

It is not ideal (if you have a cheese drawer, waxed paper is better; it allows some airflow and retains humidity around the cheese), but the idea that it traps in ‘off flavours’ or encourages mould only becomes an issueif you are storing cheese for a long time. Thebig threat, warns Lee-Anna Rennie, cheesetutor at the School of Artisan Food, is thedomestic fridge: ‘The cold temperaturecauses moisture to condense. It’s a dry,dehydrating environment. As a last resort,cling film will at least stop your cheese fromturning into a brick.’ When wrapping cheesewhich has a rind, Juliet Harbutt, founderof the British Cheese Awards, smooths clingfilm onto the cut surface, but says: ‘I leavethe rind open to breathe, as it’s giving offnasty niffs of ammonia and CO2.’ (Use your cheese in these goat’s cheese and red onion tarts.)

You cannot quick-thaw steaks in warm water

The Food Standards Agency agrees that, actually, it is okay to defrost steaks, sealed ‘in their original packaging or a container’, in warm tap water. Do not defrost larger joints this way, as it would take hours during which time the warm water (around 50C) would encourage bacterial growth. However, thawing a one-inch steak for 30 minutes is fine.


• Filling the sink with dirty dishes but no water

• Double dipping in hummus or guacamole

• Leaving tea bags in the sink

• Bread left open in the bag, to go stale

• Getting toast crumbs in the butter

• Using the wrong knife for the wrong job

• Putting empty ice trays back in the freezer

• Getting sugar everywhere on the counter top

• Returning near-empty milk bottles to the fridge

• Leaving bits clogging the plughole


• Serving hard butter

• Starters arriving before your cocktails

are finished

• Main courses arriving within seconds

of starters being cleared

• Hot food on cold plates

• Continuing to serve food on planks

of wood or tiles

• Burnt coffee


Written by Tony Naylor @naylor_tony

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