There are strict laws and regulations which control the standard of food. These deal with the production, distribution and sales, ensuring that the food is safe for us to buy. It is then our responsibility to choose, store, handle and prepare food in a safe and hygienic way to keep it safe for our family and friends to enjoy.
It is thought that many food poisoning cases originate in our own homes and with some basic knowledge of safe practices, the numbers of cases could be substantially reduced.
This module will explain some basic rules to follow when you are preparing food, to keep it safe to eat. It will also answer some questions about food poisoning – how it can happen, what causes it and how to recognize the symptoms. It is good to know that all forms of food poisoning are preventable and by understanding what the causes are, then you, as the cook, will know how to produce safe food.
Buying Safe Food
Buy your food from reputable retailers with good standards of hygiene practices.
Ensure the dates, which are marked on the food (either use by or best before), are within the time scale that you need.
Do not buy too much highly perishable food unless you are absolutely sure that you can use it within the stated time.
Once you have bought your food, if any of it is chilled or frozen, it needs to be taken home as quickly as possible, to return it to chilled or frozen storage.
Don’t buy food in faulty or damaged packaging as this increases the likelihood of it becoming contaminated.
Food Handling and Kitchen Hygiene
However carefully you select your food, you must remember to store it and handle it hygienically at home. Your kitchen and storage areas should be kept scrupulously clean. This does not mean they have to be absolutely sterile, a certain amount of bacteria are everywhere.
However there is a balance to be maintained and where you are dealing with food, then it has to be agreed that a good level of cleanliness will help prevent a case of food poisoning. Modern kitchens and the materials used have helped make cleaning much easier than it used to be, but cleaning still has to be done.
Cleaning Chemicals Detergent – e.g. washing liquid. This is used with hot water to remove grease and dirt from equipment or surfaces.
Disinfectant – this is a chemical which reduces bacteria to a safe level. It is important to check that there is no grease or dirt present before using a disinfectant.
Anti bacterial products – these are often a combination of cleanser and disinfectant, but check on the instructions for usage advice.
A Cleaning Checklist
Always clean your worktops before preparing food.
Clean your worktops thoroughly after you have prepared food, particularly if you have been using raw meat, poultry, fish or unwashed vegetables.
Dishwashers are a very effective way of disinfecting dishes, utensils and you will probably find that most chopping boards can be washed this way.
Dishcloths can be a perfect place for bacteria to multiply, so get into the habit of cleaning them often, then rinsing in very hot water, squeezing them dry, then allowing them to air dry. Don’t leave them in a damp bundle on the sink.
Disposable kitchen towels are very useful and can be used to dry down surfaces that have been cleaned, then just throw the paper away.
Tea towels can harbour bacteria if allowed to be stored in a damp state. There will be little need for them if you rinse your dishes in very hot water and allow them to air dry.
Keep you hands clean, they are an effective way of passing on bacteria from one food to another.
Storage of Food
Earlier, mention was made about the importance of placing chilled and frozen food into the fridge or freezer without delay after you have brought the shopping home. In this section we will discuss how to store this food.
It is advisable to have a fridge thermometer which should show that the temperature inside your fridge is below 5C. This will in most cases stop the growth of bacteria, and certainly slow it down so they will not multiply to dangerous numbers.
Do not have too much food in the fridge, this will not allow the air to circulate properly and the fridge will then not operate efficiently.
Always keep raw food on the lower shelves and the cooked food above, this way any ‘drips’ cannot contaminate ready to eat food.
Never put hot food into the fridge. This will cause the temperature of the fridge to rise, and the refrigerated food already in there will begin to warm up.
Cover food well, to prevent it from becoming contaminated and it will also prevent it from drying out so that the quality will be maintained.
Check the contents often, to ensure you are not keeping foods for too long, remember all of those jars etc. will have recommendations on the label, e.g once opened, refrigerate and use within 3 days, or weeks etc.
Never put open tins into the fridge, any contents left should be put into a suitable container, covered and then refrigerated – the reason being that it is a possibility that the food could become contaminated by the aluminium in the can.
Get into the habit of always closing the fridge door immediately after you remove anything. This will help to maintain the correct temperature in the fridge.
Clean your fridge often, paying particular attention to the handle. Use an odourless cleaner – bicarbonate of soda is highly recommended even though this is seen as old fashioned – anything strong smelling will linger in the fridge and possibly taint foods which are stored there.
The temperature which your freezer should be operating at is –18C. You may consider that a thermometer would be useful in your freezer as well.
Never re-freeze foods which have been thawed and not used. This is because the food will have risen in temperature which could allow bacteria on it to become more active and begin to grow and multiply.
You must wrap food well for the freezer. Remember cross contamination can still occur in the freezer. Also, foods not wrapped adequately could suffer from freezer burn, which, in effect, dries up the surface of the food which particularly reduces the quality of the food, but also can result in the food becoming ‘spoiled” and a reduction of the nutritional quality.
Always, when freezing your own food, remember to label it with the date and what it is, otherwise you will end up trying to guess a few weeks later – the food can look totally different sometimes in its frozen state.
When thawing food, follow manufactures advice if there is any. Produce like raw meat or poultry should be placed in a container and placed in the fridge. You could defrost in the microwave, but if so, cook it straight away.
About Food Poisoning
Food poisoning is a very unpleasant illness for which the main symptoms are stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhoea. It usually occurs between 1 and 36 hours of eating the contaminated or poisonous food and the illness usually lasts between 1 day and a week. In some cases the illness can cause permanent disability or can even be fatal, particularly to those groups of people that are known to be vulnerable i.e. the elderly, the very young, pregnant or nursing mothers or those who are already ill or may be immune deficient.
Food poisoning is caused by:-
Bacteria or their poisons
Remember, food poisoning does not just happen – it is caused – and this is due to something going wrong in the chain of events before the food is eaten. It is thought that many food poisoning incidents occur in people’s own homes, as was mentioned earlier.
Food poisoning caused by bacteria is most common.
Foods which have been contaminated by these harmful pathogens look, smell and taste quite normal.
One of the main reasons for food poisoning is the storage of high risk foods at room temperature for too long e.g. sandwiches made up in advance and not chilled.
Other reasons are:
Cross contamination between raw and cooked foods
Poor hygiene practices of the person handling the food
Careless use of left-overs
Not reheating food thoroughly
P.S. It is extremely important that we keep our surroundings as clean as possible because this is good for our well being and happiness. Total hygiene should be our objective, but in today’s world do we have so much time? Or do we have the resources to hire outside help?
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could have cleaned the house in half the time with the same squeaky clean results?
Wouldn’t it be nice if cleaning stops being a daily chore for you and becomes a breeze?
Get a lot more wonderful info on the subject by reading the e-book which I personally recommend. The tedious job of house cleaning shall turn into a joy.