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Guidelines For Safe Food Handling To Prevent Foodborne Disease
A foodborne illness is a preventable disease which is an enormous, continuous challenge to public health.
Although the US has one of the highest sets of health standards in the world when it comes to food handling, either in the home, the myriads of takeaway food outlets, or even in the poshest restaurants, millions of Americans are still laid low by foodborne diseases.
Recent studies revealed that approximately 48 million Americans are affected by it each year, of which 128,000 are hospitalized. The death toll annually is around 3,000.
The numbers include people who eat food to-go, those who dine out, and those who eat at home. Without exception, the illnesses are caused by bacteria due to the careless handling, poor storage, and incorrect preparation of food. You cannot see, taste, or smell bacteria which may be present in poorly handled food.
How bacteria in contaminated food can affect you
Fortunately, most healthy people will recover from a foodborne illness fairly quickly, while others may develop serious health problems which include prolonged diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal pain, with a danger of becoming severely dehydrated.
In addition, some people like older adults, young children, pregnant women, and those with low immunity, have a much higher risk of falling prey to foodborne diseases.
Here are some common bacteria in contaminated foods which cause the most trouble.
- Salmonella is one of the most common forms of bacteria to cause food poisoning infecting the intestinal tract. Most people recover in 3 to 4 days without treatment. It can be present in undercooked meat, poultry, raw eggs, and egg products.
- E-coli is found in undercooked ground beef, raw milk products like soft cheeses, some raw fruit, and raw veggies such as sprouts. Symptoms include violent stomach cramps, and severe diarrhea which may lead to bloody stools.
- Listeria, unlike other bacteria, can actually grow in cold temperatures like the fridge. It can be present in refrigerated meat spreads, ready-to-eat deli meats, raw milk, and raw sprouts. You could be troubled by fever, muscle pains, nausea, and a flu-like illness.
- Botulism is a rare, but dangerous, bacteria which is very toxic to the body. The toxins can come from home-canned foods, improperly-canned commercial foods, fermented fish, potatoes baked in tin foil, bottled garlic, and other foods kept warm for an extended time. The symptoms may be characterised by muscle weakness of the arms and chest, as well as blurred vision. Note that raw honey may also contain botulism bacteria and should not be given to children under the age of one year.
Safety first should always be the top priority when handling food, as bacteria in contaminated foodstuff can have serious health repercussions.
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Important steps for handling food safely
To prevent foodborne illness, there are basic steps to handling food that should always be applied.
The Food Safe Families Campaign have recommended the following steps be taken to keep food safe:
- Wash your hands with warm water and soap before and after handling food. Do the same if you are busy with food and need to use the bathroom, handle pets, or change a baby’s diaper.
- Wash cutting boards, utensils, counter tops and dishes with soapy water after preparing each food item.
- When preparing food, use one cutting board for fresh produce, and another for meat, fish or poultry products. The juice from raw meats, fish and chicken can easily contaminate fresh produce.
- Always marinate meat and poultry in a covered dish in the fridge. Never leave open on the kitchen counter.
- Before serving or eating, wash thoroughly all raw fruit and produce to get rid of lingering bacteria or pesticides. Unwashed fruit and veggies have been the cause of many outbreaks of foodborne illness.
- Never work with food if you have any type of illness such as a cold, cold sores, infected cuts, or any other type of infectious outbreak.
- Do not place cooked food on a plate that has previously held uncooked meat, poultry, or seafood, unless the plate has been washed in warm soapy water.
- Preparing salad ingredients on the kitchen countertop is a bad idea, as it could easily spread bacteria. Use a clean chopping board and wash the greens before and after preparing.
- Invest in a cooking thermometer to ensure the safe cooking of meat, chicken, egg products, and seafood. It is very important that these foods are cooked to the correct, recommended internal temperature to destroy the harmful bacteria which are prevalent in the raw products.
- Cook or freeze fresh meat products within 2 days of purchasing. When shopping, always buy perishables last and if you do not have a coolbag with an ice-brick, go straight home.
- Do not buy any fresh food product which has torn or broken packaging. It may already be contaminated.
- The most importance appliance in a kitchen is undoubtedly the refrigerator. Bacteria is everywhere, and the fridge is where fresh food or left-overs can be safely stored because bacterial growth is slowed down.
- Do not allow cooked food which you are not going to use immediately to “air” as it is sometimes put. Bacteria starts growing and multiplying once you have taken it off the heat. Either refrigerate immediately, or keep it warm if you are going to use in a short while.
Food that has been left for too long on the counter may look fine, but could be dangerous to eat.
All these tips are important, and if it sometimes seems a bit of a chore to keep up with the safety steps, remember the consequences if you cut corners. The air is teeming with bacteria.
Perhaps the very top of the list is the cleanliness factor, and the necessity to always wash your hands and utensils before handling any food.