Everyday people get sick from eating food, either at home or from a restaurant. But proper food preparation and handling can prevent most food poisoning. There are thousands of types of microorganisms, most of which are harmless or actually very beneficial to us. Food poisoning is caused dangerous microorganisms, called pathogens. There are dozens of types of pathogens but the most well-known are Salmonella, E. coli and the infamous Listeria. Most pathogens don’t actually change how the food looks, tastes or smells, so you can’t be sure that what you’re eating is safe.
Thats why its essential to follow some simple rules when cooking, storing or handling food in your kitchen. The World Health Organisation (WHO) have developed the Five Keys to Safer Food, a manual which sets outs practical tips you should follow in the kitchen to ensure the food you’re eating is safe.
Keep it clean
Pathogens can be found in the soil, in water and on animals and people. They can often be found on hands, chopping boards and utensils that haven’t been cleaned well enough.
Wash your hands before handling food and cooking.
Keep your kitchen clean by washing all equipment and surfaces regularly – Especially equipment used for raw meat needs to be sanitized after each use
Protect the kitchen from insects, pests, and other animals.
Separate raw & cooked foods
Pathogens are often found on raw meat and seafood. If the raw meat or its juices comes into contact with other cooked foods or foods that will be eaten raw (like fruit and veggies) during storage or cooking, the microorganisms can be transferred and contaminate them. Separating raw and cooked foods will prevent this contamination.
Use separate knives and chopping boards for handling raw meat and other food – the easiest way is to colour code them so you dont mix them up.
Keep meat separated from other foods in the fridge – they should be in sealed packaging and on different shelves to other types of food. It’s also an idea to keep meat on lower shelf so any juices don’t drip down onto cooked food.
Cooked food, like leftovers, should be kept in sealed containers.
Cook food thoroughly
Heat kills pathogens, so cooking food properly is the best way to prevent food poisoning, especially with high-risk foods like chicken, eggs and seafood.
When cooking meat, its ready to eat when the juices run clear and not pink.
Reheat cooked foods and leftovers thoroughly before eating. If using a microwave, check it’s heated through properly because there can often be cold spots.
But what is you like your steak medium rare? Don’t worry, the centre of a solid piece of meat is like a steak is usually sterile, because the microorganisms are only on the outside surface. So as long as the outside has been cooked to a high enough temperature, the inside should be ok.
This isnt the same with chicken, however. Its to do with the structure of the meat – its less dense than beef and bacetria can travel right through. That’s why medium rare chicken is a complete no-no!
Keep food at safe temperatures
Microorganisms, including pathogens, thrive at room temperature and multiply prolifically. But they can’t grow if food is too hot or too cold, so food needs to be stored at the right temperature. Do note that some can grow at the temperature in the fridge, albeit slowly.
Cooked and perishable food should be stored in the fridge below 5 degrees.
Don’t leave cooked food out too long – put leftovers in the fridge when you’re finished eating.
Thaw frozen food in the fridge – if thawed outside it might become too warm and reach room temperature (especially during summer).
Label leftovers – most cooked food shouldn’t be kept in the fridge for more than 3 days.
And what about keeping food cool during load shedding? Unopened fridges and freezers should maintain their temperatures and keep food cold enough for several hours, just make sure you open and close the doors as little as possible.
Use safe water and raw materials
Raw materials and water can be contaminated with pathogens too.
Wash fruits and veggies properly, especially if you’re going to eat them raw.
Do not use food after the use-by-date.
Use safe water to clean food and wash your hands
Don’t eat rotting/off food, and when in doubt throw it out.