Mishandling of food, especially during preparation, is one of the leading causes of food-borne illnesses, commonly known as food poisoning.
Everybody can play a part in ensuring food safety. We can start by adopting simple actions in our daily living:
Food safety begins when we do our shopping.
Food in damaged packaging can be contaminated by micro-organisms. Similarly, food safety and quality may be compromised if the food has expired. Food that has turned mouldy may contain toxins that can cause health problems. Exercising care in food selection can reduce the risk of food poisoning.
- Buy your food from established and reliable retail establishments.
- Select food that has not passed its expiry date, as shown on the packaging.
- Do not buy chilled or frozen food that is displayed at room temperature.
- Select frozen food that has been stored below the load line of the freezing unit to avoid temperature abuse.
- Do not choose canned food that is badly dented or bloated.
- Avoid food packaging that is torn, leaking or infested with insects.
- Do not buy food that has turned mouldy or rancid. It may be contaminated with harmful mycotoxins.
- Check that bottled milk or drinks are tightly sealed.
- Buy eggs that are clean. Avoid cracked eggs as bacteria can enter eggs through the cracks.
Raw food can contain dangerous micro-organisms, which can cause foodborne diseases. When raw food is mixed with cooked food, the juices from raw meat or seafood with the micro-organisms may be transferred to the cooked food. This is known as cross-contamination.
Cross contamination is the most common cause of food poisoning.
- Keep raw food in separate bags away from cooked and ready-to-eat food while shopping.
- Wash knives and cutting boards between uses, especially when working with raw and cooked food. Where possible, use separate cutting boards for raw and cooked food.
- Wash knives thoroughly especially after cutting raw meat, seafood and poultry, before cutting other food.
- Use different serving plates for raw and cooked food. If you use the same plate, wash between uses.
- Place raw food in tightly wrapped plastic bags or covered containers in the refrigerator to prevent raw food juices from dripping on to other food.
- Place dry food above wet food to prevent juices from contaminating the dry food.
When it comes to food, there are two temperatures to keep in mind always --- keep hot food above 60oC, and cold food below 5oC. As a general guide, keep hot food hot and cold food cold. This is because bacteria multiply quickly in the temperature danger zone (between 5oC to 60oC).
- Food to be served hot should be served piping hot.
- Do not leave cooked food standing at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
- Reheat stored cooked food at temperatures above 75oC or bring them to a boil, to kill bacteria.
- Portion out excess cooked food after cooking and refrigerate quickly.
- Keep cold food in the refrigerator or on a bed of ice until it is time to serve.
- Do not thaw food at room temperature. Thaw food safely in the refrigerator overnight, or use the microwave oven.
- Do not marinate food at room temperature on the kitchen counter. Marinate food safely in a covered bowl in the refrigerator.
Micro-organisms are everywhere in our environment - in the air, water, soil, in humans and animals. Harmful micro-organisms may be found on our hands, wiping cloths or food.
Washing and cleaning are simple measures that anyone can take to ensure food safety.
- Wash your hands with soap and water before handling any food items or utensils.
- Wash your hands before and after preparing each type of food, especially raw meat and seafood.
- Wash your hands after using the toilet to get rid of gut bacteria.
- Wash and soak fruits and vegetables before eating.
- Clean all kitchen surfaces like countertops and cutting boards with soap and hot water.
- Wash knives, cutting boards and kitchen utensils between uses, and especially after using them to cut raw food.
- Wash dishcloths and tea towels frequently or use paper towels instead. Damp dishcloths and tea towels harbour bacteria.
- Disinfect kitchen sponges in chlorine solution or heat for 2 minutes in the microwave oven. Kitchen sponges can harbour millions of bacteria.
- Clean up as soon as possible. Do not let food residue dry on kitchen surfaces and utensils. It becomes more difficult to remove.
Thorough cooking helps to kill all the harmful bacteria in food. Food that require special attention include meat patties where the meat becomes more exposed to bacteria in the process of mincing, barbequed meat, whole poultry and seafood.
- Cook food thoroughly, especially meat, poultry, eggs and seafood. Meat that is pink is not thoroughly cooked.
- Cook food at high temperatures (above 75oC).
- Ensure the centre of meat and poultry are well-cooked as partially cooked food increases risk of bacterial growth.
- Bring food like stews, soups and curries, to boiling temperatures when cooking.