Preparing and handling food properly in the home is essential for keeping yourself and your family healthy. The main consequence of inadequate food-handling is infection. This can be serious and even fatal, particularly in children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with weak immune systems.
Food gets contaminated in many ways. This can happen during packaging or through inadequate storage and cooking. Hygiene measures should be applied in the handling of all kinds of food. The ones involving the greatest risk are red meats, poultry, eggs, cheeses, dairy products, uncooked vegetables, and raw fish or seafood.
There are some basic recommendations you should follow to make sure you are handling food properly at home. These are the most important ones:
Wash your hands
Washing your hands eliminates germs you may have gotten through contact with other people or from dirty surfaces. The first rule is to wash your hands well and often, especially:
- Before, during, or after preparing food
- Before eating
- After using the bathroom
- After touching animals or handling their waste
- When your hands are dirty
- If someone in the house is sick
- If you have cuts or sores on your hands, use gloves or avoid preparing food altogether.
To wash your hands well, wet them and cover them in soap. Rub them together vigorously for about 15 seconds. Rinse them well and dry them.
Avoid contaminating food
Avoid food cross-contamination by separating meat, poultry, fish, and seafood from other products. We may unwittingly transfer harmful bacteria from one food to another if they are not handled properly, especially raw meat, chicken, fish, and seafood. Keep these items and their juices separate from food that has already been prepared or that is ready-to-eat.
Recommendations on how to avoid cross-contamination:
- Separate raw meat, chicken, and seafood from other food in your shopping cart.
- Store meat, chicken, and seafood in well-sealed containers or sealable plastic bags to prevent their juices from contaminating other food.
- Keep eggs in their original container and refrigerate them quickly.
- Use hot water, soap and paper towels or clean cloths to clean up any liquid that spills on you work surfaces when preparing these items. (Clean these cloths with hot water in the washing machine.)
- After preparing each food item and before moving on to the next, wash all chopping boards, plates, and utensils with hot water and soap.
- To clean utensils and kitchen surfaces, use 1 teaspoon of chlorine bleach dissolved in 1 cup of water.
- Use separate chopping boards for raw animal products and fruits and vegetables.
- Marinate food inside the refrigerator.
- Refrigerate or freeze leftovers in clean, sealed containers within 2 hours of preparation to prevent the spread of germs.
Cook food thoroughly
This is another important way to prevent infections being caused by food. Make sure you cook food at the right temperature. Here are some specific recommendations for cooking food:
- You may make a mistake if you rely on food color to determine whether it’s cooked or not. The correct way to ensure food is cooked is by using a clean thermometer. Red meats and poultry, for example, need to be cooked at no lower than 165 to 180 °F. Fish should be opaque (not transparent) and flake easily with a fork.
- Eggs must be cooked until both the yolk and the white are hard.
- Leftovers must be reheated at 165 °F. Sauces, soups, and stocks must be brought to a boil.
Food can be contaminated before you purchase it. Avoid eating food that is past its expiration date, items in which the seal is broken, food from bulging cans, and food that smells bad or tastes strange.
By following these simple hygiene and health rules, you’ll be making sure you feed your family wholesome food that won’t make them sick. It's well worth the effort, don’t you think?
*Dietitian of the MyDiet™ Team
© 2016 HolaDoctor