Food poisoning is a common issue that often arises from mishandled or incorrectly prepared and stored food. The danger lies in the fact that contaminated food may appear, smell, and taste perfectly normal. Yet, when food isn't stored properly, harmful bacteria can multiply rapidly, posing a health risk. Here are some crucial food safety tips to help you steer clear of foodborne illnesses:
1. Be Wary of the Temperature Danger Zone
The Temperature Danger Zone: Bacteria responsible for food poisoning thrive and multiply fastest in temperatures between 5°C and 60°C. It's essential to keep high-risk foods out of this danger zone.
2. Handle High-Risk Foods with Extra Caution
Certain foods are more susceptible to bacterial growth than others. High-risk foods encompass:
- Raw and cooked meat (e.g., chicken, minced meat) and dishes containing them (casseroles, curries).
- Dairy products like custard, dairy-based desserts (custard tarts, cheesecake).
- Eggs and egg products (e.g., mousse).
- Smallgoods such as ham and salami.
- Seafood, including seafood salads, patties, and stews containing seafood.
- Cooked rice and pasta.
- Prepared salads like coleslaws, pasta salads, and rice salads.
- Prepared fruit salads.
- Ready-to-eat foods like sandwiches, rolls, and pizzas containing any of the aforementioned items.
Packaged, canned, and jarred foods can also become high-risk once opened, necessitating proper handling and storage.
3. Keep Your Fridge in Check
Maintain your refrigerator at a temperature of 5°C or lower. Your freezer should register below -15°C. A thermometer is a handy tool to verify your fridge's temperature.
4. Freeze Food Safely
When shopping, purchase chilled and frozen items last and transport them home promptly. On hot days or extended trips, use an insulated cooler bag or ice packs to preserve the cold temperature of frozen goods. During transport, segregate hot and cold items. Upon arrival home, immediately place chilled and frozen items into the fridge or freezer. Ensure that foods in the freezer are frozen solid.
5. Safely Store Cooked Food
When cooling cooked food, adopt these practices:
- Transfer hot food into shallow dishes or portion it into smaller servings to expedite cooling.
- Avoid placing very hot food directly into the fridge; wait until steam ceases to rise from the food.
6. Avoid Refreezing Thawed Food
Prevent food poisoning by avoiding thawing frozen food within the temperature danger zone. Keep defrosted food in the fridge until ready for cooking. If using a microwave for defrosting, cook the food immediately after thawing. As a general rule, avoid refreezing thawed food, as it can harbor higher levels of food poisoning bacteria.
7. Separate Raw and Cooked Foods
Raw and cooked foods should be stored separately in the fridge. Raw food can contaminate cooked food if not kept separate. Always store raw food in sealed containers at the lowest shelf of the fridge to prevent drips and contamination.
8. Choose Safe Food Storage Containers
Ensure your food storage containers are clean and in good condition, exclusively used for storing food. Seal them tightly with lids, foil, or plastic wrap to minimize contamination risks. Transfer contents from opened cans into appropriate containers.
9. When in Doubt, Discard
If high-risk food remains in the temperature danger zone for over 4 hours, dispose of it—do not refrigerate it for later consumption. Regularly check the use-by dates on food products and discard any expired items. When uncertain about a product's safety, it's better to err on the side of caution and dispose of it.
By following these food safety guidelines, you can significantly reduce the risk of food poisoning and ensure the safety of your meals.