Saturday, October 10, 2009

Food Safety

How do you prevent food contamination?

In the March/April, 2001 issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education, food poisoning was placed in pecking order:

1. Firstly, poor personal hygiene caused the highest incidence of and costs related to food poisoning. This means you, your help, your guests hands, and the restaurants who feed you are the main culprits.
2. Inadequate cooking and cross-contamination was less. This means you can control these processes at home, but not when eating out.
3. And keeping food at safe temperatures and unsafe food sources had the lowest incidences.

From this list, the recommended focus, in order of importance, follows:
1. Hand washing
2. Adequate cooking
3. Avoiding cross-contamination.
4. Safe temperatures
5. Avoiding food from unsafe sources.

At The American Dietetic Association’s meeting, we were referred to for more information. The main messages were Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill (This may sound like I’m repeating myself, but washing hands and hygienic kitchen procedures are a repetitive processes.):

Clean - Wash hands often. This could halve the cases of food poisoning and another important benefit; reduce the spread of the common cold and flu.
* Always wash your hands front and back up to your wrists, between fingers, and under fingernails and rings.
* Wash your hands in warm, soapy water before preparing foods and after handling raw meat, poultry and seafood. * Dry hands with disposable paper towels. Used hand towels and sponges provide a happy home for bacteria so wash or replace regularly. Smell your kitchen sponge now and you’ll be surprised at the nasty odor.
* Wash hands after sneezing, throwing out garbage, using the phone, touching your face, shaking hands, touching a sore, changing infant diapers, picking up after your pet and riding the metro.

Separate - Keep raw meats and other foods apart.
* Don’t even let a cooked food come near to touching raw foods.
* Use two cutting boards: one for raw meets and the other for breads and vegetables. The type is not as important; it can acrylic, marble, plastic or wood. Clean is important.
* Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly and keep separate.
* It might be better to avoid unpasteurized milk and juices and untreated water. Luckily, it’s difficult for most people to find these kinds of beverages.

Cook - to proper temperatures
* Cook meat and poultry thoroughly.
* Heat food well, above 78oC, as most microbes are killed by heat. Of course, there are the exceptions: the Clostridium bacteria need temperatures above boiling to kill their spores and the staphylococcal toxin is not inactivated even if it is boiled. This means return to former columns to read on preventing contamination.

Chill - refrigerate promptly below 4 degrees C
* Refrigerate food promptly to stop bacteria multiplying. However, they are still there, just not multiplying. Except for Listeria monocytogenes and Yersinia enterocolitica which grow at refrigerator temperatures. Again you say, exceptions! To every rule?
* Buy a thermometer if you aren’t sure the temperature in your fridge is below 4 degrees Centigrade. In a survey, most people did not know what the ideal temperature for a fridge was. If you are not sure if your fridge thermometer is accurate, buy one - they are inexpensive.
* Keep the fridge door closed as much as possible.
* Don't leave foods out for more than two hours. In hot weather no more than one hour. The "danger zone" is 4 to 60 degrees Centigrade. Even though we cannot stop food contamination during production, we can stop the contamination continuing. The bottom line is become more aware of cleanliness and safe cooking when you prepare food.