Did you know that if your ferments are too close together, you’ll experience cross-contamination?
That’s right. You can use clean containers, organic vegetables, and do everything else right…
…but if different types of ferments are too close together, weird things will happen!
Like “fluffy” cheese, yeasty or alcoholic-smelling vegetable ferments, and funky tastes.
So, how far apart should you keep your ferments? Which ferments are important to space apart and which don’t matter? What if your kitchen is too small to keep them far enough apart?
I’m covering all the “rules” on how far apart to space your ferments on today’s #AskWardee! Plus, I’m telling you when it’s ok to let things slide. 🙂
Check out the particulars below in print, podcast, or video.
The Question: How Far Apart To Space Your Ferments To Avoid Cross-Contamination?
Laurie D. asked:
I am newer to fermenting but am absolutely loving it! I’ve learned so much from you!
I’ve heard you say a few times that you need to keep your ferments separated by about 4 feet (I think that’s right?). I would love to know more about this. I don’t have a very big kitchen, so keeping my water kefir away from my kombucha and sauerkraut is getting challenging. Would a shelving system be okay to keep them separated, or is that just not enough space?
Thank you so much! May God richly bless you!
My Answer: The 5 Foot Rule
Laurie, it’s correct that the “rule” is your ferments should be 4 to 5 feet apart. This prevents cross-contamination of cultures, where yeasts and bacteria are getting into nearby containers.
We can’t see it, but here’s what’s happening:
There’s a cloud of microscopic activity surrounding our ferments. When the “cloud” around one container gets close to another’s cloud, the organisms share vessels. They hop back and forth. It’s kind of funny to imagine, isn’t it?
And when they’re sharing containers, you can end up with grainy cheese or cheese that puffs up into billowing clouds instead of forming smooth curds. Or you can get vegetable ferments that end up yeasty and cheesy smelling. And so on…
So, it’s important to keep the different “types” of ferments spaced at least 4 to 5 feet away from each other.
By types, I mean:
- fruit/vegetable ferments
- dairy or water kefir
- sourdough starter or souring doughs
If you have 2 ferments of the same “type” — say pickles and sauerkraut — they can stay close together. You can keep different souring doughs near each other. And, it’s ok keep different cheeses near each other.
In my opinion, though you may get some culture-sharing within types, the results are not usually as disappointing as when differing types of cultures cross-contaminate.
What If You Don’t Have Enough Room?
Laurie, you mentioned this is a challenge for you because your kitchen is small. A shelving system doesn’t solve this unless it’s tall enough that when you put one ferment on the top shelf and one on the bottom, there is 4 to 5 feet between them.
If you or anyone else is in a smaller space, here’s what I suggest:
- Space ferments as far apart as you can.
- Never keep your sourdough starter near other ferments, especially cheese or other culturing dairy.
- Move some ferments into another room… a pretty crock or vessel full of colorful vegetables can become a temporary decoration!
Our kitchen has 3 “corners” and I have ferments in each one: Kombucha in one, kefir in another, and sourdough in another. I have an additional area — the island counter in the middle of the room — where I keep vegetable ferments. It’s at least 5 feet away from each corner.
This is what’s going currently; we change it up from season to season depending on what’s culturing.
In the past, when we had a smaller kitchen, I kept some ferments in the dining room or living room that were adjacent to the kitchen. We had to make it work!
Additional Fermenting Articles
- Troubleshooting Your Ferments (KYF172)
- Lacto-Fermentation 101 Video Series
- Which Water is Best for Fermenting?
- Which Kind of Salt Should I Use for Fermenting?
- Do Lacto Ferments Contain Alcohol?
- Can I Use Alternative Sweeteners in Ferments?
- How to Tell if Your Kombucha is Moldy (And What to Do About It)
- How To Make Kombucha
- How To Make Kefir
- FREE Sourdough Starter Instructions
- FREE Fermenting Formulas Cheat Sheet
- Free Traditional Cooking Video Series
What Is The #AskWardee Show?
The #AskWardee Show is the live weekly show devoted to answering your niggling questions about Traditional Cooking: whether it’s your sourdough starter, your sauerkraut, preserving foods, broth, superfoods or anything else to do with Traditional Cooking or your GNOWFGLINS lifestyle.
I share tips and resources, plus answer your questions about Traditional Cooking!
When: Wednesdays at 10am Pacific / 1pm Eastern
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What arrangement do you use to keep your ferments spaced far enough apart? Do you break some rules and still get good results?
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