Summer has arrived and temperatures of 30-plus degrees Celsius and 90 per cent humidity don't affect just our appetites, they also have an adverse effect on food.

It's not just the obvious problems, such as trying to get ice cream home from the supermarket before it melts, which can be annoying, but probably won't make you ill. When it's hot outside, you have to worry much more about food safety than when it's 15 degrees.

Unless your kitchen is well insulated (mine isn't), constantly facing away from the sun (mine doesn't) and/or has air-conditioning (fortunately, mine does), the temperature inside is probably going to be quite close to that outside. And if the hot weather makes you uncomfortable, imagine what it's doing to your food.

In recipes, I regularly advise bringing meat to room temperature before grilling, roasting or pan-frying, because it cooks more evenly than if it's heated straight from the fridge. With smaller cuts of meat this could take an hour or less to get it to about 25 degrees. Chickens and large roasts could be problematic, because by the time the interior warms up enough, the exterior will have been at room temperature for much longer, and the "danger zone" of between four to 60 degrees, the band within which bacteria thrive. You can probably take comfort in the fact that these bacteria will be killed when the meat is cooked sufficiently, but if this worries you, submerge the meat in cool water (about 20 degrees), because water is more effective than air at conducting heat, so the joint will warm up quicker. If you want to avoid washing off a marinade, wrap the meat tightly in a double layer of cling-film before putting it into the water.

Vegetables, too, can be affected by heat and humidity - they wilt a lot faster. In cooler weather, I often wash greens early during the meal preparation, then put them in a colander to air-dry before stir-frying them. When it's hot, though, I wash the vegetables then wrap them in a clean, dry kitchen cloth (to absorb the moisture) before putting them in the fridge.

After the food is cooked, what's not eaten should be cooled down as quickly as possible. If you've made a large pot of soup, don't put it straight into the fridge while it's still hot - that will just heat up the fridge. Cool it down first by putting the soup in a metal container (which will absorb the heat), then put the container in an ice-water bath. Stir the soup often, to dissipate the heat, then, when it's cooled sufficiently, put it in the fridge. Rice, which can carry the harmful Bacillus cereus bacteria, should be put in the fridge as soon as a meal is over.


Truc (tryk): noun, masculine, trick, gimmick, device. A French word for a chef's secret.