Food poisoning occurs when food is contaminated with microorganisms that produce toxins leading to illnesses. To ensure the food is safe, the consumer has a responsibility to take necessary precautions to prevent food poisoning. Below are the 10 tips to prevent food poisoning:
1. Separate food
The first thing one would need to do is to ensure the separation of raw and cooked food. This is because raw food may contain some germs which may contaminate the cooked food, which has already gone through processing intended to remove possible germs. It is highly recommended that when doing grocery shopping, one should keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood separate from other foods. Food must also be stored inside tightly closed containers in the refrigerator or freezer and safely separated to prevent cross-contamination.
2. Wash hands
Before you can start preparing your food, it is essential that you should wash your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds with water and soap. Most food contamination takes place due to failure to wash hands appropriately. Food could be contaminated if food handlers are themselves contaminated with germs such as Escherichia Coli, Staphylococcus Aureus and many others. These germs could then be introduced into the food.
3. Check the intended use label or usage instructions
It is crucial that you check the intended use on a food label before consuming or using the food for any purpose. If the food manufacturer has given an indication on how the food item should be used or consumed, it is in your best interest to follow such instructions. E.g. If the food label indicates that you must wash food thoroughly, you MUST wash it before consuming it. Although washing your fruits and vegetables will not really kill bacterial like E. coli, enterobacteria Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes that might cause food poisoning, it will remove soil residues that are likely to carry such microorganisms.
4. Cook food thoroughly
Food is safely cooked when the internal temperature reaches a temperature hot enough to kill germs that can make you sick. A temperature of 60°C will suffice to kill off germs for whole cuts of beef, pork, veal, and lamb. For poultry such as chicken and turkey as well as leftover casseroles, heating for at least 15 seconds at 74°C will be hot enough to kill bacteria.
Microbes like bacteria whose cell wall is made out of a protein structure, tend to denature and die when exposed to a temperature at 60°C but there is a catch! If food has been exposed to danger zone temperature range for more than two hours then germs could possibly have released toxins that cannot be removed by merely heating food to 60°C.
5. Avoid dented and/or bulged canned food
The recent incident where a giant food business Tiger brands in South Africa had to recall some products packed in dented cans, provides an excellent example of how dented cans could lead to a food safety incident. This is because if the can or tin is dented, microorganisms such as Clostridium Botulinum could have an opportunity to grow and replicate. Clostridium Botulinum produces a toxin (a poison that causes food poisoning) leading to Botulism. Therefore, DO NOT EAT FOOD FROM A DENTED OR BULGED CAN.
6. Choose cutting boards wisely
One of the safest ways to prevent cross-contamination of germs is to never use a wooden cutting board. A wooden cutting board can absorb moisture including dripping blood from meat than can cross-contaminate other food products with microbes. One of the main requirements for the growth of microorganisms is moisture. Many wooden cutting boards absorb moisture and that is worse if they are not washed thoroughly. The dirt and moisture provide conducive conditions for germs to replicate and grow. It is therefore recommended to use plastic cutting boards, and if you use wooden cutting boards in your kitchen, ensure they are clean. Cutting boards used for raw food like chicken, turkey, pork, beef and seafood must never be utilised interchangeably with cooked food and vegetables due to the risk of cross-contamination.
7. Chill or freeze food under their designated temperatures
Bacteria can multiply rapidly if left at room temperature or in the “danger zone”. For that reason, never leave perishable food outside the refrigerator for more than a period of 2 hours (or 1 hour if it’s hotter than 30°C outside). Frozen food products need to be stored under their designated frozen temperature in a freezer whereas leftovers and other food like milk, cheese, butter and others must be stored safely at 4°C or below. The safe way to thaw frozen food is in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave. Never thaw foods on the countertop, because bacteria multiply quickly on the outer parts of the food that reach room temperature.
8. Avoid unpasteurised milk
Do not buy unpasteurised milk. Raw milk may be contaminated with disease-causing bacteria that can cause severe foodborne illnesses. Raw milk is made safe through a heat treatment process to remove pathogenic microbes. To prevent infection with Listeria monocytogenes and other harmful germs, don’t consume raw milk, soft cheeses and other products made from raw milk.
9. Consume food within the expiry date
The South African Regulation 638 of 2018 defines food safety as the “assurance that food will not cause harm to the consumer when it is prepared or consumed according to its intended use”. This definition emphasizes an intended use of the product to be followed for quality and safety purposes. If the manufacturer has instructed you, the consumer, that food must be consumed within a stipulated date, do not take chances! It is your responsibility as a consumer to read the labels and take note of the dates.
10. Use the FIFO / FEFO method
The acronym FIFO stands for First In First Out and FEFO stands for First Expired, First Out. FIFO/FEFO is important because it ensures that the older products are used first before the newer products. This assists in inventory management and prevents unnecessary wastage.
Food poisoning incidents can be very costly for all parties involved. It is therefore important that all role players contribute to ensuring the food produced or handled is safe and will not cause any harm or illness. Everyone has a responsibility from farm to fork. Although Government is involved in protecting the rights of the consumer through the Consumer Protection Act, it is important that consumers take responsibility. Consumers have a responsibility to practice good food hygiene practices, read labels and use food within their stipulated time frame. If as a consumer, or a food handler know of a company that is breaking the rules, you must make sure that is known by relevant authorities. The authorities could be your municipal environmental health inspectors, for example, the department of health and industry inspectors.
Should you want to do Food Safety Training with ASC Consultants, please click on this link https://ascconsultants.co.za/training/food-safety