Why Is It So Important?
People all over the globe continue to become ill on a daily basis after not taking the proper precautions when it comes to handling and preparing their food. Foodborne illnesses are still a major concern, even in developed countries, and they are usually only diagnosable when their symptoms begin to flare up. Although Australia has an incredibly high standard of food hygiene and strict regulations when it comes to the handling and preparation of food, it is the individuals responsibility to make sure that the food they consume is safe when preparing at home. Several basic steps can be taken to ensure that the risk of foodborne illness is minimised.
Washing your hands before preparing food is the number one way to prevent food borne illnesses. Clean hands, clean cooking utensils and clean surfaces are therefore your greatest defence against harmful bacteria. Before you start preparing your food, ensure that you wash your hands for about 20 seconds using warm water and soap. All your dishes, utensils, counter tops and chopping boards should also be cleaned with hot water and soap before and after preparing food.
Preparing Fresh Fruit & Vegetables
Buying organic fruit and vegetables reduces your exposure to pesticides and other potentially harmful chemicals. However, this does not imply that the organic fruits or vegetables are any less likely to carry bacteria than non-organic produce. You should thoroughly wash all fresh fruits and vegetables before cooking or eating by rinsing them under cold running water. This should suffice to remove any bacteria, chemicals or unwanted pests.
Cross-contamination occurs when bacteria spread from one type of food to another. You, therefore, need to separate raw foods (meat, seafood etc.) from the ready to eat foods (fruits, cheese etc.) during both storage and throughout preparation. If possible, you should avoid mixing raw food with ready to eat food in not only the fridge but also in your shopping bags when transporting food back from the store. The most important thing to consider when preparing food is that you should always use separate plates, chopping boards and utensils when preparing raw meat and seafood to what you would use when preparing ready to eat food. Also remember to thoroughly wash your hands with warm water and soap after handling any raw food before going on to handle ready to eat food.
Keeping Hot Food Hot and Cold Food Cold
Since some foods are more prone to bacterial growth than others, food safety experts classify them into two categories; those that are potentially hazardous and those that are not. The potentially hazardous foods should always be kept out of the ‘Temperature Danger Zone’ which is between 5°C and 60°C. Examples of potentially hazardous food include, meat & poultry, cooked rice and seafood. Examples of food which would not be considered as potentially hazardous include, many fruits & vegetables, nuts and confectionery.
When serving hot or cold food, for example, at a party, always ensure that you keep them at a safe temperature. Hot food should be held at a minimum of 60°C, whereas cold food should be kept at a maximum of 5°C (however most cold foods are ok for up to 2 hours at room temperature). Chafing dishes, warming trays and slow cookers are handy when dealing with hot food, and ice beds, nesting dishes and small serving trays are great for keeping food cold.