Food Safety and Food Poisoning

With all the diseases and illnesses caused by food today, food safety should be foremost in everyone's mind when handling and cooking food. The way food is handled before it is cooked is just as vital as the cooking itself and how it is handled subsequently. There are many things that one has to remember, such as making sure the food is carefully washed. This applies to home use as well as restaurants and fast food outlets. Some foods, such as eggs, dairy products and meat go off quickly and must be kept refrigerated. There are bacteria in these foods that can cause food poisoning. You can become very ill and deaths have been reported from Salmonella food poisoning if proper food safety measures are not adhered to.

Before you start any food preparation, food safety involves washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water. All surfaces that you will be laying the food on should also be washed as bacteria can live on any surface, even the kitchen countertop. Sponges should never be used for cleaning as they attract and keep small pieces of dirt in the pores. When you are cleaning the surfaces you should use a mild bleach to make sure you kill all the germs. You should clean out your refrigerator on a regular basis and throw out food that has been there for some time. The proper temperature of a refrigerator is 41 degrees to ensure the safety of the food inside.

When cooking meat you should thaw the meat in the refrigerator. This helps with food safety because the meat is not being thawed at a fast pace. Thaw the meat on the lowest rack to make sure that none of the juices leak on to other foods and spoil them. If you need the food in a hurry, use the defrost feature of the microwave. When you are buying groceries, always check the best before date on the packaging. Many stores put foods, such as meats on sale just prior to this date. If you will not be using the food before the date, then you shouldn't buy it. Foods in the freezer that have been there for a long time or have a hole in the packaging will most likely have freezer burn. These should be thrown out as they are not safe to eat.

One food safety rule is to cook all seafood to 145 degrees. Raw seafood should never be eaten. Eggs should be cooked until the whites are firm and the yolks begin to get hard. When serving cold food refrigerate it until you are ready to serve it. Likewise, hot food should be kept hot until you are ready to serve it.

You will be aware that e.coli and salmonella can cause symptoms that range from mild discomfort to life threatening emergencies. But why is this more common during summertime meals and how can you protect your loved ones without ruining your summer?

During the summer when we are picnicking or having a BBQ we are not preparing a meal with the usual amenities we have in the house - sink, oven, fridge. Because of this we are more likely to forget to wash hands, store food properly or even grab a clean plate to serve food.

Here are some ways you can protect yourself from food poisoning when dining outdoors:

From the grocery store, to the cart, to the fridge, to the table - keep meats and other food separated. Always wrap meats even when thawing to prevent the juices from dripping onto other foods, especially produce. Produce has been identified as a culprit in some food poisoning cases.

Wash hands, cutting boards, dishes and food. Always wash your hands before and after preparing foods. Never serve cooked meat on the same plate or tray that you had it on when raw - make sure the resident BBQ expert is given a clean plate to place the finished product on. Also thoroughly clean knives and cutting boards. Ideally you should use a separate cutting board for bread and produce and another for meat products. Wash produce in cold water and scrub thick skinned foods like cantaloupe as the bacteria can come in contact with the flesh of the fruit when being cut.

Keep cold food cold and hot food hot. Food can normally last for two hours at room temperature, but that is decreased to one hour in warm weather. Cold food (potato salad, sandwiches etc.) should stay in the fridge until ready to serve. If the food must travel, be certain to use ice or commercial freezing gel packets. Hot food should also stay insulated. When eating outdoors try to keep cold food in the shade and be sure warm food is wrapped and insulated. When the food is no longer being eaten it should be returned to the ice box or insulated carrier. Food should remain hot or cold for as long as it is being served and then refrigerated in clean, covered containers. If you are not able to refrigerate it within a couple hours it is best to throw it out.

If you suspect a mild case of food poisoning than try to limit the foods you eat to the BRAT diet: bananas, rice, applesauce and toast. In more severe cases you should seek emergency treatment when there are signs of pain, vomiting for several hours or bloody diarrhoea. Pregnant women, elderly, those with immune disorders and children are more at risk.

Food safety is an important part of a fun summer. Taking precautions will help you enjoy your meals and avoid serious consequences.