Food safety is very important within the food industry; however, with over a third of food-borne illness cases occurring in the home, it is as vital within our own domestic kitchens. Certain bacteria, viruses, parasites and chemicals can contaminate food and cause food to become unsafe.  Unsafe food can result in mild symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, to severe symptoms which could result in hospitalisation or death.

There are various points for possible contamination of food, including production, processing, distribution, storage and preparation. Food safety therefore depends on a collaborative effort from everyone involved in the food supply chain, including the consumer as the “home chef”.

Most consumers check the expiry date of foods before purchasing them, however there are many other ways you can ensure you are eating food that is safe.

Keep Things Clean

  • Wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm soapy water before handling food, and frequently while cooking. Make it a habit to always wash your hands as you enter the kitchen. Germs spread to food through physical contact.
    • If you are using the counter to prepare food (e.g. rolling out dough) use soapy water to clean the surface before use.
    • Wash all utensils in hot soapy water or in the dishwasher.
    • Frequently wash dishcloths, tea towels and aprons at high temperatures.

Handle Meat with Care

Foods that are most likely to contain illness-causing microbes include raw foods such as meat, fish and poultry.

  • Avoid cross contamination with raw vegetables by using separate chopping boards to prepare meat and vegetables/fruit. Choose chopping boards that have a nonporous surface such as plastic, marble, glass or bamboo.
  • Reserve one of your reusable shopping bags for raw meat only.
  • Do not wash raw chicken because the harmful microbes may end up all over the sink.
  • Thaw meat, fish or poultry inside the fridge (do not defrost meat on the counter, at room temperature). Ensure the food is completely thawed before cooking.  While defrosting, meat should be stored in a sealed container at the bottom shelf of the fridge to prevent microbes from spreading to ready-to-eat foods (such as salad ingredients).

Cook Food Thoroughly

The cooking and heating process kills most illness-causing microbes if the correct temperature is reached.  Food heated until piping hot throughout should be enough, however the best way to check the temperature of food is to use a cooking thermometer.  Most meat needs to reach a core (internal) temperature of at least 72⁰C for 2 minutes.  Some guidelines and exceptions are as follows:

  • Ground fish and meat such as fishcakes, sausages and burgers, pork and poultry should be cooked thoroughly all the way through. Pork and poultry should never be eaten rare (i.e. pink). The juices at the thickest part of the meat should run clear, not pink, if pieced with a fork or skewer.
  • Whole cuts of beef or lamb are an exception and can be eaten rare (pink) but the outer surface should be seared. The reason for this is because the centre of these meats is unlikely to contain bacteria.
  • Leftovers should be reheated thoroughly, all the way through. It is important to note that meat is not the only food that can contain illness-causing bacteria.  All leftovers, including rice, pasta, soups and stews must be reheated thoroughly. Soups and stews must be brought to the boil for about 2 minutes.

Store Foods at The Correct Temperatures

Cupboard storage

  • Foods stored in the cupboard should be in sealed containers.
  • Potatoes and onions should be kept in a dark cupboard to avoid sprouting.
  • Certain foods can safely be stored outside of the fridge, away from direct sunlight, to help with ripening. These include tomatoes, avocados, stone fruit (e.g. plums) and pears.

Fridge and Freezer Storage

To slow down the growth of harmful microbes, foods such as milk, meat, fish, poultry, and leftover meals should be kept in the fridge or freezer.

  • All food requiring refrigeration must be put in the fridge or freezer within 2 hours. Don’t put piping hot food into the fridge or freezer. Allow the food to cool down in a shallow container, however, follow the 2-hour rule.
  • Fridges should be below 5⁰C and freezers should be below -18⁰C.
  • When transporting food, such as taking lunch to work, use a cooler bag with an ice pack.
  • Clean your fridge regularly with warm, soapy water and wipe up spills immediately.
  • Generally, leftovers should be eaten within 2 to 3 days. Rice should be eaten within 1 day because rice can contain spores that are not killed during the cooking process.  These spores can grow into bacteria over time; therefore, the longer cooked rice is kept, the more likely it is unsafe to eat.
  • Do not refreeze thawed food. Food that has been defrosted needs to be cooked prior to refreezing.
  • If the freezer stops working do not open the freezer. Foods should remain frozen and safe for 24 hours.  If any food item has started to defrost, cook the food immediately.

Conclusion

Following safe food handling practices within the home environment is very straight forward, however these are essential measures for the prevention of food-born illnesses.

LINDSAY HAYWARD
National Dietician – Capitol Caterers

References

Eatright.org. 2018. Cutting Board Safety. [online] Available at: <https://www.eatright.org/homefoodsafety/four-steps/separate/cutting-board-safety> [Accessed 8 April 2020].

Eufic.org. 2017. Food Hygiene: How To Prevent Foodborne Illness: (EUFIC). [online] Available at: <https://www.eufic.org/en/food-safety/article/food-hygiene-at-home-how-to-avoid-foodborne-illness> [Accessed 8 April 2020].

Langiano, E., Ferrara, M., Lanni, L., Viscardi, V., Abbatecola, A. and De Vito, E., 2011. Food safety at home: knowledge and practices of consumers. Journal of Public Health, 20(1), pp.47-57.

McGrath, N., 2018. What Is Food Safety? : (EUFIC). [online] Eufic.org. Available at: <https://www.eufic.org/en/food-safety/article/what-is-food-safety> [Accessed 8 April 2020].

McGrath, N., 2019. Food Safety. [online] Bda.uk.com. Available at: <https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/food-safety.html> [Accessed 7 April 2020].