Foodborne illness is common nearly everywhere in the world, affecting nearly 600 million people annually. There is a plethora of causes, with cross-contamination being the leading cause.
Today’s article is focused on providing tips on how to handle food safely, from the time you buy food from the fresh market or supermarket, until it is prepared. These tips are mainly to avoid cross-contamination among raw foods.
Cross-contamination is the transfer of bacteria from one source to another, which can occur in several stages, mainly:
- food production – from farm produce, e.g., plants and animals
- unhygienic methods at slaughterhouses
- food processing – getting raw food readied for transportation
- transportation of food – dirty or unmaintained refrigerated trucks
- equipment to food – dirty utensils
- food to food – normally from raw/uncooked food to cooked food
- people to food – food preparation / serving
Cross-contamination can occur during any of the above stages.
We will highlight three stages which are related to food safety at home or when eating out:
Equipment to food contamination:
This is the most common yet least recognized form of cross-contamination. Countertops, cutting boards, cooking utensils and even storage containers are places where bacteria are found and can survive for long periods of time.
When steps are not taken to sanitize these items routinely, bacteria can be transferred easily during food preparation. This type of contamination can happen at home and in food outlets.
At home, a common mistake is to use the same cutting board and knife to cut raw meat immediately followed by cutting vegetables. This is very harmful when the juices and blood of the raw meat come into contact with vegetables that are eaten raw.
Though preferred, it is not necessary to have separate kitchen utensils for meat, poultry, seafood and vegetables. Just ensure the utensils (and your hands!) are thoroughly and properly cleaned after preparing one type of food. Having a kettle of hot water on standby to pour over used kitchen utensils will further get rid of bacteria, after the soaping process is done.
Food to food contamination:
This occurs when bacteria in contaminated foods come into contact with uncontaminated foods, allowing it to spread.
Considerable amounts of common bacteria like E. coli, Salmonella and Staphylococcus aureus can be found raw, improperly washed or undercooked food. Do take note that this includes fruits and leafy vegetables.
In 2006, an E. Coli outbreak at a popular food outlet in the U.S. was linked to contaminated lettuce added to a fresh salad.
Leftovers can be kept in the fridge but should be reheated and consumed within 3 days, as a longer storage period can result in bacterial overgrowth. It is important to note that a new dish with leftovers added in should not be stored again as a new meal.
People to food contamination:
Bacteria and viruses are easily transferred from human to human during food preparation. An example would be when a cook sneezes or coughs into his hand, and continues with his work.
Dirty aprons or towels also contribute to cross-contamination. Even using a mobile phone during the cooking process can cause contamination.
The same goes when eating out. Street food may be cheap and tasty, but do observe if the vendor is dressed cleanly, layout of raw food, and how he cooks the raw food. The serving utensils should be clean or the disposable type. If flies are present, do not buy the food sold there.
Try to avoid patronizing eating establishments where the staff look unkept, plates and cutlery are left in the open to flies and dust, and cooked food is not covered properly.
Here are a few suggestions on how you can reduce cross-contamination:
- Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 secs, after handling raw food.
- Store raw meat, poultry and seafood in sealed containers below cooked food, to prevent any juices leaking onto other foods.
- Wash and sanitize countertops, cutting boards and kitchen utensils before and after use.
- If eating out, look out for clean street vendors and eating establishments.
27th June 16:10