This is a public service announcement from Home Ec 101.
Let me ask you a quick question: When was the last time you washed your can opener?*
Please allow me to introduce myself. I’m the dude who, when cooking in your kitchen, scrubs the can opener before I use it. And nearly every time, I’m fighting against caked-on rusty-red sludge. Or actual rust. Really.
Do me a favour. Do yourself a favour. Do anyone who eats food from your kitchen a favour. Please keep your can opener clean. It’s one of the things health inspectors check for a reason—I mean, you open a can of tomato puree, and as it opens tomato seeps up through the cut in the metal and smears all over the blade. Sometimes, it sloshes over the side and hits the wheel, too. If left unwashed, that stuff builds up and becomes that dark, rusty-brown home for things you don’t really want to ingest. “Unsanitary”, meet “Ew”.
Electric can openers are even worse for this, I’ve found. Cleaning them well is a nightmare—particularly if the goo has already set up well on it. You’re gonna need some elbow grease and some vinegar to get that off. If you have an electric opener and the lever/cutting wheel is removable, (unplug the machine first! and) pop that lever-piece into a bowl of white vinegar for a soak until the gunk comes off when brushed with a toothbrush. In the meantime, scrub the heck out of the main body of the opener, all around the mechanism, everything. Rinse it clean, dry it all very well so you’re not just inviting rust back in, and reassemble.
If you have one where the blade and lever can’t be removed, chuck that thing and get a hand-held one. I’m serious. Better still, if you have an electric one at all my recommendation is to chuck it and get a hand-held one. Because you really should be cleaning your can opener whenever you use it, and isn’t it a pain-in-the-butt chore with that electric one?
Manual can opener technology has come a long way since we were kids; even the middle-of-the-road brand will open up a can with less effort than you’d expend trying to clean one of those blasted electric machines, and a good quality one will open your can like a hot knife through butter. Gone are the days of busting your knuckles with some dull contraption of twisted steel. Some of the can openers on the market are actually a joy to use. …Don’t look at me like that. It’s true. And a lot (most, I’d wager, but check the packaging) of these manual marvels of engineering are even dishwasher-safe.
If you already have a manual can opener, and it’s dirty, the same trick with the vinegar and a toothbrush should work on it. Alternatively, if it’s old, and you notice it’s taking a little too much work to use it, take the opportunity to toss it and get a new one with a sharp blade and a distinct lack of food build-up. (In fact, having a sharp blade is a key factor in cutting metal—I know, it’s a shock—so if you’re having to put in a whole lot of effort, or if your opener skips or gets stuck, a dull blade might be the problem. Replace the blade or buy a new opener.)
And this time, this time, keep your can opener clean. Clean it every time. Keep the hinge well-oiled with food-grade mineral oil. It’s a tool, and tools deserve to be taken care of.
Thanks, on behalf of Anyone Who Eats Food From Your Kitchen and other interested parties. You won’t regret it.
*Tin opener, if you’re inclined to call them tins instead of cans. In my house it could really go either way.