Food safety is an aspect of science that is concerned with the discipline and guidelines, describing the way food should be handled, prepared, stored, and even transported, down to the end user, all in a bid to prevent or reduce food-borne illnesses. Food safety comprises of routines that should be observed, to prevent health hazards.
If not handled properly, food can serve as a transmission entity for pathogens, which can ultimately result in death, in humans or animals. The main organisms responsible for these diseases are the likes of bacteria, fungus, mould, and viruses. Food doesn’t only transmit these pathogens, but can also serve as a growth and reproductive medium, for them.
Food safety efforts are often undermined, by unhealthy food practices in the supply chain, either from industry to the market, or market to the consumer, and even by the consumer himself. When food hygiene is neglected, food safety is defeated.
As you’ve learnt already, food can be contaminated at any given stage – production to end user, even at the very beginning, when it is slaughtered or harvested. To combat this, WHO has laid down principles or measures that are necessary to ensure safety of food. They are called the five keys to safer food. These measures are especially suited for consumers. They are:
The number one safety measure is that anyone handling, preparing or transporting food, must be clean. The reason is not far-fetched, as dirt can easily latch on to food supplies, and contaminate it. Some people assume that they are clean, and don’t observe this safety measure, but the truth is that, the more you interact with your environment, the more dirty you get because, these organisms are everywhere. So, what can you do to keep clean?
- Wash your hands before and during food preparation. You can never be too sure how clean you are, or how many germs have latched on to you, so you just have to follow the process repeatedly.
- Wash and sanitize the cooking environment, and the equipment to be used. Food hygiene is incomplete, if you only concern yourself with hand-washing alone. If the surfaces and equipment you are to use are dirty or infested, your food is as good as contaminated. In fact, those organisms would end up getting on your hands, and the food.
- Wash your hands after using the toilet. No matter how clean or exquisite your toilet is, there are still germs in there. If you must use that room, then be prepared to also wash your hands. For your safety (and that of others), even when you are not cooking, it is best practice to wash hands after using the toilet; remember you’d probably shake someone’s hand, shortly after.
- Keep the kitchen area free of pests, insects or pets. All of these carry pathogens that can contaminate food, and ultimately harm people. Keep them out, as much as possible.
Keep raw food away from cooked food
Raw foods naturally contain these dangerous micro-organisms, which can be transferred to other foods either during preparation, or storage. Raw foods like meat, poultry and seafood, should be kept at bay.
How to manage this effectively:
- Store food in containers, to avoid contact. By placing food in containers you can totally avoid any chances of contamination, between cooked and raw food. In your bid to use this method, however, be sure to consider the temperature requirements for storing each food, so they don’t end up getting spoilt in the process.
- Separate raw meat, poultry and seafood, from other foods. These three are chief carriers of micro-organisms, and thus, can easily contaminate nearby food items, so it is best to keep them away.
- Use separate kitchen equipment for raw foods. Using the same kitchen utensils to handle both raw and cooked meals, can encourage free transfer of these pathogens. It is best to use different utensils.
- When shopping, use different bags to pack raw meat, poultry and seafood.
- Store raw food below cooked foods, in the refrigerator.
- Wash plates used for raw food.
When food is cooked properly, most of the dangerous micro-organisms are killed. Studies indicate that cooking food to a temperature of 70 °C, can help ensure it is safe for consumption.
How to ensure that foods are cooked properly:
- Ensure that foods are boiled thoroughly, hitting the 70 °C mark. For starters, you can use a thermometer for this, and over time, you should be able to tell when this gauge is reached.
- Cook meat, poultry and seafood thoroughly. This set of raw foods require special attention, due to the high number of organisms in them.
- Reheat cooked food well. That a food was previously prepared, doesn’t mean it is impossible for organisms to get in, they still can. What can prevent this from happening is proper refrigeration, and thorough reheating. Do these, and your food should be safe for eating.
Store food at safe temperatures
Temperature matters in the storage of food for safety. A few things to take into cognisance are:
- Don’t leave cooked food at room temperature, for over two hours. Micro-organisms begin to thrive in such an environment.
- Immediately refrigerate all cooked and perishable food. Refrigeration helps to halt the activities of micro-organisms.
- Avoid storing food for too long. Storing food in the refrigerator is good but it could have an adverse effect on the food over time.
Use safe water and raw materials
The raw materials used for cooking and perhaps storing food, may be contaminated themselves, and this can transfer to your food. Care should be taken, to prevent this from happening.
Best practices include:
- Only use clean water, when preparing food. The water used to wash the food, the plates, and other equipment, must be clean.
- Fruits and vegetables should be washed thoroughly, before consumption, no matter how fresh or appealing they look.
- When shopping, only select fresh and wholesome foods.
The role of refrigeration in food safety
Refrigerators play a vital role in ensuring food safety and freshness. Without refrigerators, food safety is not assured because, Refrigeration slows down bacterial growth.
Tips for effective refrigeration:
- Refrigerators should be set to 4 °C or below.
- Avoid storing perishable foods in the door of the fridge.
- Clean refrigerator regularly.
Refrigeration also plays a key role in preserving the freshness of food, across the supply chain. This is where Glacier refrigeration vans come in, with a robust system that serves restaurants, hotels, amongst others.
Food safety is a global concern today, and while there are organizations like WHO, which try to ensure food hygiene, is observed everywhere, everybody has a part to play in this. Food hygiene should be observed at all levels of food production, down to consumption, to reduce the negative impacts of food contamination.