This month, the World Health Organisation’s World Health Day is asking ‘how much do you know about your food?’ They estimate that over 200 diseases are caused by unsafe food containing harmful bacteria, parasites, viruses, chemical substances. While we’re lucky in the UK that we don’t have a serious problem with long term disease caused by contaminated foods, we do have over a million cases of food poisoning reported each year. And not only is food poisoning seriously unpleasant and inconvenient, but it can also be life-threatening in certain at-risk populations such as the elderly, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems.
The NHS has 10 top tips for preventing food poisoning – how many do you follow?
1. Wash your hands – it may sound obvious, but before starting to prepare any food (or even eat anything from a packet with your hands) it’s important to wash hands thoroughly with soap and water, drying them thoroughly before touching food. Don’t forget your thumbs, between the fingers and your wrists. Remember to wash your hands again after handling raw foods – including meat, fish, eggs and vegetables and after touching your face, nose, eyes or the bin.
2. Wash worktops – use hot, soapy water to clean all surfaces before starting preparing food and afterwards particularly if they've been touched by raw meat, including poultry, raw eggs, fish and vegetables.
3. Wash dishcloths and tea towels regularly – and let them dry completely before using them again. Damp, warm cloths are the perfect breeding ground for bacteria.
4. Use separate chopping boards for raw food and ready to eat food. It can be helpful to have red coloured boards for raw meat and a different colour for other foods. Always wash chopping boards thoroughly with hot, soapy water – ideally in the dishwasher.
5. Keep raw meat away from ready to eat foods when preparing foods – and be sure to use separate utensils for raw meat and other foods.
6. Store raw meat on the bottom shelf on the fridge – and don’t keep any other foods on this shelf. This prevents any juices leaking from the meat onto foods below, and means it won’t touch any other foods.
7.Cook food thoroughly – especially chicken, pork, burgers, sausages and kebabs. Never serve these foods with any pink meat inside and check they’re steaming hot before serving. If in doubt you can always buy a food thermometer and test the inside of the meat before eating. It’s also important not to wash raw meat before cooking as this increases the risk of spreading bacteria around the kitchen.
8.Keep your fridge below 5 degrees to stop bacteria growing
9. Cool foods quickly – it’s important to get foods in the fridge within 2 hours of cooking. Keeping foods out of the fridge puts them in the ‘danger zone’ for germs to breed. When thawing foods, never thaw foods at room temperature – always thaw in the fridge (even if it takes longer!)
10. Stick to ‘use by’ dates – unlike ‘best before’ dates, use by dates are not optional and eating foods after this date are likely to cause harm, even if it looks and smells ok.
Certain foods are more likely to cause food poisoning than others so pay extra attention when preparing the following foods; poultry, eggs, red meat, seafood, rice, fruit and vegetables, unpasteurised milk and cheese.
Ask yourself whenever you’re cooking or preparing foods – are you doing everything you can to ensure it’s safe for you and for the people you’re feeding?
Written by Ruth Tongue