How to Keep Food Safe

Today, 7th April 2015 is being celebrated as the World Health Day and this year’s theme is ‘Safe Food’. Foodborne disease have been remained as a great health challenge for all of us, no matter in which country we live. So, why not take this opportunity to know about the ‘Five Keys to Safer Food’ introduced by the World Health Organization (WHO) way back in 2001. These golden rules for food safety were developed after deep consultation with food experts and risk communicators.

What are the Five Keys to Safer Food?

In a nutshell, the 5 keys to safer food are as follows:

  1. Keep clean
  2. Separate raw and cooked
  3. Cook thoroughly
  4. Keep food at safe temperatures
  5. Use safe water and raw materials.

The WHO issued the following poster underlining the importance of the five keys to safer food.

Let’s understand these five keys to safer food in detail.

1st Key to Safer Food- Keep Clean

Keep your Hands and Utensils Clean! But How?

Why and How to keep your hands clean?

Why is it so important to keep your hands clean for safer food? Because hands are the most common means through which micro-organisms like bacteria, virus, fungus etc. enter your food and give you diseases. And because, you keep food in utensils, they too might get contaminated with micro-organisms through hands, clothes that you use to wipe them and so on.

• Always wash your hands when handling food- wash hands before you start cooking food; during the process of food making, especially when you handle meats and other animal products; before you serve food; and before you start eating food.
• Always wash hands after visiting toilet- fecal material have a number of dangerous micro-organisms. So, it is essential to wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after you go to toilet.
• Wash hands often- after you change your baby’s diaper, after blowing nose, when you handle any type of chemicals like those used to clean bathrooms and kitchen, after you play with your touch your pets, after you finish smoking.
• Always wash and keep the surfaces where you prepare food clean- kitchen slabs, chopping boards, kitchen counter tops, all need to be kept clean. Wash them before and after you prepare food.
• Keep insects and pets away from kitchen- Dangerous micro-organisms are present in animals and humans too. While you cannot keep yourself away from kitchen, animals and pets can always be kept away from this area. Take proper steps to sanitize your kitchen so that it remains free from cockroaches, rats and other insects.

How to keep utensils clean?

• Clean the used utensils while you are in the midst of cooking food so that micro-organisms do not get an opportunity to grow.
• Sanitize your chopping board and tools, especially after you cut raw meat or sea food.
• Clean your utensils with hot water and detergent with the help of clean cloth or brush. After that rinse them with clean water properly. Then leave them to air dry. You may also wipe them with a dry and clean cloth. Remember, microbes develop in damp places. So, never leave them wet.

2nd Key to Safer Food- Separate Raw and Cooked

Thoroughly cooked food is free of micro-organism. Raw food, especially meat, poultry and seafood are not. Therefore, in order to avoid ‘cross-contamination’ (transfer of micro-organism from raw to cooked food), keep them separate.

• Use separate utensils as well as chopping and cutting tools for both, raw and cooked food. • Store raw and cooked food in separate containers. Use containers that have lids.
• In refrigerator too, use separate containers with lids for raw and cooked foods and always keep them separate- meat and seafood etc. below the cooked or ready-to-eat foods.
• Always wash the plates that you use to keep raw foods.
• Never place cooked foods in an unwashed utensil or the one that had been used to keep raw foods.
• When shopping, take enough care to keep raw meat, poultry and seafood separate from all the other foods.
• If using cloth bags to bring them home, wash them regularly and thoroughly.

3rd Key to Safer Food- Cook Thoroughly

When you cook food thoroughly, at a temperature of 70°C, you may rest assure that your food is safe to eat. This type of thorough cooking will kill almost all the harmful micro-organisms.

• Always cook your food thoroughly at a temperature of 70°C, especially when you cook meat, eggs, poultry, fish or other seafood.
• Bring liquid foods like soups and stews to a boil so that there is no doubt about the cooking temperature being at 70°C.
• Never leave cooking meat and poultry when they still look pink or when their juices are still pink in tone. The juice should be clear and not pink. It is best to use a thermometer to check the temperature.
• Pay special attention when cooking minced meats, whole poultry or rolled roasts. Bacteria in them reside all over. • Whenever reheating food, do this thoroughly too.
• Cooking in microwave oven is done unevenly. If you feel any spot is cold in the food that is cooked in microwave oven while all the other portions are hot, give it some more time to cook. These cold spots can have many bacteria.
• Also never use plastic containers for cooking in microwave oven as they release harmful chemicals upon heating. Always use glass utensils for microwave cooking.

4th Key to Safer Food- Keep Food at Safe Temperatures

There is a conducive temperature range for micro-organisms in which they grow very fast and spoil your food to give you diseases. This dangerous temperature range lies between 5°C to 60°C where microbes can multiply at a very fast rate. Usually your room temperature lies within this range of temperature. Micro-organisms cannot grow if it is too cold or too hot. If you want to keep your food safe, you need to store them below 5°C and here comes your refrigerator’s role. When you keep your food in the fridge, you are slowing down the rate of growth of these bacteria. You, however, are not freezing them to death. Cooling or freezing do not kill micro-organisms. It only hampers their growth.

• After cooking food, do not leave it to stay in room temperature more than two hours.
• If you intend to serve the food after cooking without refrigerating it, keep it piping hot. It means the temperature of your cooked food should be more than 60°C. For this reason, it is always wise to cook close to your meal time.
• Store your cooked food and even those that are raw but perishable, in the refrigerator, below 5°C.
• Cool down the leftover foods promptly and refrigerate them. You can cool them by spreading them like on an open tray, chopping the larger chunks into smaller pieces, placing the food in cool containers or by stirring liquid foods like soups continuously.
• Do not, however, store your food in refrigerator for too long a period. It should be a maximum of 2-3 days depending upon what all are you storing.
• Don’t thaw your frozen food at room temperature, thaw them in refrigerator or some other cool place.
• You may also thaw frozen food in microwave oven but care must be taken so that no warm spots are left on the food as they become growing ground for bacteria. Even if you thaw it in microwave properly, do not wait for too long and cook it as soon as possible.

5th Key to Safer Food- Use Safe Water and Raw Materials

Water, Ice and other raw materials that you use for cooking may also come contaminated with micro-organisms. Toxic chemicals in them also make these foods unsafe for consumption.

• Do not use untreated water from rivers and canals for cooking.
• Rainwater is clean provided you collect it in such tanks that are clean and treated for preventing contamination, especially by birds and animals.
• Treat water before you use it for cooking. This can be done by boiling, chlorination and filtration.
• Always cover the tanks and other vessels holding water.
• Always buy fresh foods, whole foods
• Wash your veggies and fruits properly, more so when you eat them raw.
• If buying processed foods, check for adopted safety measures.
• Never use anything beyond its expiry date.
• Discard the damaged or bruised areas of fruits and vegetables. These portions may contain bacteria.

You can unlock the treasure of your health with these five keys to safer food and just feel how amazing it is to be healthy!

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