Parts Per Million

A dear friend and I were talking about the vicissitudes of food preparation. specifically what the hell happened to her bloody bandaid while she was making dinner?  No seriously, bloody as in blood-soaked, not the British curse, and seriously, where the hell did it go?  I told her she should turn her frown upside-down and tell her guests that it was like the King Cake tradition at Mardi Gras; whoever gets the bandaid in his dinner gets a year of good luck and extra dessert.

In my kitchen I have experienced not being able to account for a tiny sliver of skin missing from my knuckle while grating white cheddar cheese.  My skin and white cheddar cheese are basically the same color and since I wasn’t bleeding, the skin had no red flag to distinguish it from the mound of cheese shreds.  Frugality won the day; the cheese went into the gratin.  Don’t judge, it was for family.

Wikipedia has a piece on “Food Defect Action Levels,” which defines how many (no kidding look it up) “maggots, thrips, insect fragments, foreign matter, mold, rodent hairs, hairs, and insect and mammalian feces” can be in food before it presents a health hazard.  (Thrips: AKA  “thunderbugs” or “corn lice” = GROSS).  There is a whole lot about food prep you don’t want to know, no matter where that food is prepared. We like to think about food factories or restaurants as uber-pristine environments– all shiny stainless steel, every human covered in moon suits and gloves, but…

Ask anyone who works behind the scenes anywhere– a bakery, a butcher shop, a restaurant– everyone has stories.  (I once went into the darkened restaurant kitchen after hours to check on the bread I’d set to a slow rise, and startled a momma possum with several babies on her back.) Or better yet, DON’T ask.  Just accept the fact that people or insects or rodent hairs are in some way in the toast you’re jellying or the cinnamon you’re sprinkling or the chocolate upon which you’re nibbling.  It’s THERE, get used to it and put it right out of your head.

Next time you find a hair in your pasta pomodoro, reflect on the cook who put his heart and soul and hair into your dish and be grateful he did not also toss in a bloody bandaid.