Food poisoning is a major problem in many parts of the world, and millions of people get sick because of contaminated food. Prevention of potential contamination with pathogens is a necessary measure to ensure consumer safety. In some cases, food poisoning can be fatal. This will be dependent on the risk profile of the person consuming the food, the type of microorganism causing illness and access to medical care.
The risk of food poisoning is largely dependent on the type of food, the intrinsic and extrinsic factors affecting the food and how food is handled or prepared. Therefore, consumers must understand their responsibilities towards ensuring that they consume safe food.
When contaminated with harmful microorganisms, food would usually taste, smell, and look normal unless spoilt. In other words, it does not necessarily mean that when food is contaminated, it will look, taste, and smell bad. Many times, there would not be anything suspicious with the food. Therefore, it is not easy to see that the food is contaminated until one consumes it and falls sick or sends it to a laboratory for testing.
Below are some of the foods that are known to be high-risk:
- Dairy products, specifically raw milk and dairy-based ready to eat products, pose a risk. It is important that, as a consumer, you buy pasteurised milk and milk-based products made of pasteurised milk. Pasteurisation is when milk goes through health treatment to minimise the number of microorganisms present to ensure it is safe for consumption. You must only source or buy food from reputable retail stores or hawkers as a consumer.
- Eggs and products that contain eggs, especially if the egg has not been cooked properly, may be contaminated with pathogens such as Salmonella spp. As a consumer, it is your responsibility to only source eggs from reputable supplies.
- Fish, especially if the fish is not eaten raw or has not been properly cooked. In addition, food not stored at chilled and frozen temperatures may lead to the multiplication of microorganisms. Besides bacteria and viruses, fish could be contaminated with parasites. To ensure these parasites are killed, you must freeze fish. It is, however, important to note that frozen temperatures DO NOT KILL bacteria and viruses that cause food poisoning. Colder temperatures merely delay the multiplication and growth of microorganisms.
- Raw meat, especially pork and chicken, is one of the biggest culprits for food poisoning. All animals have microorganisms that are present in their gut. Harmful organisms may be present in the gut of animals and get into the meat during the processing stage. If the meat is not kept at appropriate temperatures and good food preparation practices are not followed, these microorganisms may multiply in large numbers leading to food contamination.
- Ready to eat meals (RTE) such as salads sandwiches may harbour bacteria and viruses. These foods do not go through further processing that might help remove pathogens present in the food. Food handlers are usually the culprit when it comes to contamination of food, which could be due to poor sanitation, poor personnel hygiene practices, and incorrect food storage.
- Fresh fruits and vegetables may contain harmful microorganisms introduced to the fresh produce by water, soil, poor agricultural practices, poor hygiene, poor storage practices, or contamination during food preparation. Sprouts have been flagged as one of the high-risk fresh produce.
In summary, you must do everything necessary to prevent food poisoning and know which foods are likely to be contaminated. Some foods are more likely to cause illnesses than others. The contaminants could be introduced at the farm, during transport or preparation. Thus, it is important to ensure that you source food from reputable retailers, store it as per manufacturers instructions, and prepare food following good hygiene practices. For more information on preventing food poisoning, feel free to send our highly qualified consultants an e-mail or visit our social media pages.