There are lots of things that we like to joke about, but food safety is not one of them. Keeping your meat slicer clean is just as important as keeping your counters, cutting boards, and knives clean. The process is quicker and easier when you give your slicer a regular cleaning.
Why Cleaning is Important
First and foremost, cleaning your slicer is a food safety requirement regardless of what you are slicing. Cured meats, bread, and even vegetables will leave contamination that harbors the growth of bacteria, many of which have serious consequences. One of the deadliest foodborne bacteria is listeria monocytogenes, a bacteria that can grow and replicate even in freezing temperatures that is commonly found in raw meat and soft cheese.
Invisible specks of food residue left on the parts of a slicer can breed more than enough bacteria to make someone seriously ill and hundreds of people in the U.S. die every year from foodborne illnesses. Properly cleaning and sanitizing a meat slicer is essential to preventing food poisoning.
Establishing a Cleaning Routine
A cleaning routine can be a difficult habit to form, but once it is part of the process, it will be swift and natural to ensure that your meat slicer is clean and in good working order. You will want to get into the habit of taking apart the slicer and cleaning each part and also cleaning the slicer before using it to prevent disease.
How Often Must a Meat Slicer be Cleaned and Sanitized
A meat slicer should be cleaned and sanitized after every use and should be wiped down with a food-grade sanitizing product before every use. There are several food-grade wipes available and we recommend finding one that is unscented to prevent undesirable odors on your meat slicer.
Getting into the habit of fully cleaning the slicer after each use and wiping it down beforehand eliminates the most common causes of foodborne illness from harmful bacteria caused by slicers and ensures you will have the best experience using your slicer.
When you take the time to regularly clean your slicer, you'll also want to make sure to check that there is no damage to the safety or the on/off switch. It is also a good opportunity to make sure the blade is sharp. Many slicers have a sharpening stone available you can use to quickly keep an edge on your slicer blade.
How to Clean a Meat Slicer
After you have finished slicing and all of the meat or vegetables are put away, gather your cleaning supplies and get ready. Some slicers require tools to disassemble, so be sure you have the correct screwdriver handy.
Fill a sink with hot water and add a sanitizer. You can use a commercial food-grade sanitizer that is available for home brewing or you can use a weak bleach solution to ensure bacteria are eliminated. Make sure the slicer is unplugged and the cord cannot get wet accidentally.
Remove the blade guard handle and brush off large food particles before putting it in the meat slicer sanitizing solution. Remove the tray and the slide rods, clean off leftover bits, and place the parts in the sanitizing solution.
Remove the slicer blade from the slicer machine. Be careful when handling the meat slicer blade as it can be slippery and sharp. The slicer blade can also go into the sanitizer. Some blades may require that the gear hub assembly is also removed from the blade. It is best to use cut resistant gloves when removing the hub to prevent cuts.
Many smaller meat slicers like the 7.5-inch slicer from Meat Your Maker will require that you remove the machine face plate to properly clean all of the large food particles from the slicer. Designs such as this one do not have a rubber gasket to prevent food from getting into the drive gears. The face plate can go in the sanitizing solution along with the slice deflector if equipped. Don't forget to also clean the screws because they can trap bits of food as well.
Since the whole meat slicer can't go in the solution, we recommend using a spray bottle with sanitizing solution to spray off and wipe clean the entire machine. Particularly stuck-on bits can be removed with a gentle scrub pad. Never use steel wool to clean a slicer machine since it can damage the finishes and can even create places for food residue to be trapped.
The final step to cleaning a meat slicer requires that you wipe the machine down with a damp rag with clean water, then dry off the surfaces with a dry towel. Remove the disassembled parts from the sanitizer and use a soft brush or sponge to clean them. Again, avoid using steel wool on these parts. Once the parts have been thoroughly cleaned and rinsed, allow them to air dry. This is particularly important with product tray designs that can allow water to enter.
Reassemble the slicer before storing it away. Make sure all parts are completely dry before storing it away to prevent mold and mildew from growing. Use a clean paper towel to make sure the slicer is dry.
Cleaning a Commercial Slicer
You'll often notice that butchers who are using a commercial meat slicer clean the machine regularly. The slicer is sanitized when in constant use and between each type of meat. A degreaser spray is used to keep work areas clean and free of cross-contamination. Cleaning products are always food grade so they don't contaminate food items.
Cleaning a Slicer Before Use
Food-grade wipes are perfect for cleaning a slicer before use. Look for ones that are unscented for the best results. Wipe down the entire meat slicer properly, making sure to go over all of the nooks and crannies that can harbor raw meat particles. Set the gauge plate thickness to zero before wiping down the meat slicer guide plate. A spray lubricant on the slide rods can make the food tray move better when you are using the meat slicer.
How Often Must a Meat Slicer Blade be Sharpened?
A big cause of many frustrating slicing experiences is not the quality of the slicer or even the cleanliness, but how sharp the meat slicer blade is. Many slicers have built-in provisions for a sharpening stone, while there are also universal products to sharpen the blade of a slicer.
A slicer that is in constant use will need to have the blade sharpened about every two weeks. Most home slicers that are used only occasionally can go anywhere from a month to several months without sharpening the blade. You will know that it is time to sharpen the blade when your meat looks ragged or isn't slicing cleanly. One way to test the sharpness of a blade is to use a tomato or an apple. You should be able to thinly slice these items without the blade catching the skin and damaging the food.
Things to Remember
Giving your meat slicer a thorough cleaning is much easier when you do it regularly. Once you have set a schedule for routine cleaning and maintenance of the slicer, it is a quick process that is simply part of using the machine. It is vital that you spend time ensuring that food particles are not left in small parts of the slicer or behind the face plate. Don't forget to make sure that even areas of the slicer that don't regularly touch food are perfectly cleaned to prevent cross-contamination and the spreading of disease.
You should clean a slicer before and after you use it – every time. While it sounds like a hassle, there is nothing quite as horrible as a disease from bacteria that grows on raw food left behind on the slicer. A cleaned and sanitized slicer will last longer and perform better, so it is worth protecting the investment by properly cleaning the machine.
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