Keeping your food safe and yourself healthy

No matter what time of the year, it is crucial that we keep our foods safe from food borne bacteria.  Whether we are preparing a meal, or sitting down to a meal, it is always important to make sure that we (and the food that we are handling) are clean.  Here are a few tips from the food safety experts:

  1. Clean your hands!!  Washing your hands before you eat, before you prepare a meal, and after handling raw food, is extremely important and should be one of the “non-negotiable” rules / lifestyle-choices we make.  Washing our hands is one of the easiest ways to keep bugs and bacteria at bay.
  2. If you, like me, like to cook in bulk, make sure there is space in the fridge / freezer to store the bulk.  Only take it out of the freezer when you are going to eat it.  If you want to take it out the night before, make sure to put it into the fridge, so that it can unfreeze there without going off (especially meat and fish).
  3. Avoid cross contamination.  For example, never put cooked meat in the same dish that contained raw meat / poultry.  Also avoid using the same utensils for raw- and cooked food.
  4. Cold foods should be kept cold (below 4 °C or 39.2°F); and hot foods hot.  Also let warm / hot food cool off before placing it into the fridge.

Food poisoning, better known as gastro-enteritis, happens when a person becomes ill from eating food that has been contaminated by micro-organisms, or the toxins it produced.  Symptoms can include stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhoea and fever.  Food poisoning can rear its head anywhere between 4 – 48 hours.

Young babies, the elderly and those with a low immune system, are more severely affected by this.  Seeking medical help is important; as you lose a lot of fluids due to the symptoms.  Therefore, it is always advisable to take electrolytes to help put back the important body-salts, and so forth, that gets lost when ill.

Here are a few examples of the most common bacteria that causes gastro-enteritis:

  • Staphylococci- found on a person’s skin (also in sores or skin infections), in noses and throats.  This is transferred through the unhygienic handling of food;
  • Salmonellae – found on raw poultry, meats and products linked to meat, as well as the droppings of rats, mice, and the stools of humans and certain animals;
  • E-Coli – found in the stools of animals and humans.

When we go to the grocery store, it is the job of the store to make sure that the produce is fresh and safe to buy.  It is the job of the buyers to make sure that fresh foods are packed away as quickly as possible (especially things like fish, meat, cheese, milk, butter, yogurt, salad, and anything else that needs to be kept cold); especially on a hot summer’s day.  When you are out shopping, do look out for cans that are bulging or are “blown” – do not buy it – as it can contain botulism (a highly dangerous toxin that occurs when canned food has not been processed properly).

Another thing to remember is to separate any household cleaning supplies and other non-edibles from foodstuffs.  Frozen foods should be packed together to help maintain the cold temperature for as long as possible.  Raw meat and poultry should not be packed with cooked / deli foods like cheese or cold meats, as salmonella may be present in the raw meats.

Now that the shopping is done and you’re at home and your groceries are packed away, remember to never overcrowd the fridge with too many bowls, etc.  if you have any leftovers, try to eat it within 2 – 3 days, or else freeze it. 

Transferring canned food into a glass or plastic container with a lid, will keep it fresher for longer.  Lastly, if there is a power outage, keep the door closed for as long as possible. Food should be safe as long as the power is not out for longer than 4 hours.  Perishables, like dairy- and meat products, could go off faster (even salad), so be careful before eating it.  If you can, freeze the food and milk that you won’t use immediately and, wherever possible, buy long-life products like milk and canned foods.  Another great idea is to pack ice packs around perishable foods to help it to stay cold for as long as possible!

To all the men out there – a recent study indicated that men are more susceptible to gastro-enteritis than women!  Why?  Because women are more likely to wash their hands after going to the bathroom than men! So, boys and men…do as the girls and ladies do…wash your hands regularly.

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