Good food hygiene isn’t just something for restaurants to worry about. Whether you’re a budding chef or more at home with microwave meals and beans on toast, it’s important to know how to prepare food safely and hygienically. This article will explain why food hygiene is important, and how to maintain it.
Every day people get ill from the food they eat. Micro-organisms including bacteria, viruses and moulds found in food can cause food poisoning, leading to a whole host of unpleasant symptoms, such as stomach pains, diarrhoea and vomiting.
Food poisoning can sometimes lead to gastroenteritis, which is inflammation of your stomach and bowel, or even more serious health problems, such as blood poisoning (septicaemia) and kidney failure.
Anyone can get food poisoning but some people, including babies, children and older people, are more likely to have serious symptoms. If you’re pregnant, you need to be particularly careful not to get food poisoning.
If you just bear in mind a few simple points, it can help prevent a bout of food poisoning for you and your family.
One of the most important things you can do is to make sure that your hands are clean at all times – although it sounds simple enough, many of us are guilty of forgetting at some point.
Cleaning your hands doesn’t mean just passing your hands under the tap – give them a proper scrub with soap. In particular, remember to wash your hands:
If possible, remove any rings, watches and bracelets before you handle food. This is because bacteria can hide under these and transfer to your food.
Before you start to prepare any food, make sure that the area you’re working in and the utensils you’re using are clean. Clean worktops thoroughly and wash utensils with washing-up liquid and hot water, or use a dishwasher if you have one. Make sure you clean up any spilt food straight away.
Change all tea towels, dishcloths and other cleaning materials regularly as these can harbour bacteria, especially if they are damp.
If you don’t follow the storage guidelines that come with your food, you could let yourself in for real problems. If you store food in the wrong place or at the wrong temperature, it can lead to the growth of bacteria. Here are some simple tips to follow.
There are a few points to remember when it comes to preparing your food.
Don't handle food if you have stomach problems, such as diarrhoea or vomiting, or if you're sneezing or coughing regularly.
Check food labels before you decide what to use. Shop-bought foods may come with two dates: a use-by date and a best before date. Don’t use any foods that have passed their use-by date, even if you think they look fine, as they may not be safe to eat. However, you can eat food after its best before date as this only refers to the quality of the food, rather than the safety of eating it. The only exception is eggs, which contain a type of bacteria called Salmonella that may multiply after the best before date. Although you can eat eggs a day or two after their best before date (provided you cook them thoroughly), it’s safer to throw eggs away once this date has passed.
Keep anything that should be refrigerated out of the fridge for as short a time as possible, especially if the temperature is high or the room is very warm.
Always use different chopping boards and utensils to prepare raw meat or fish. This is because they contain harmful bacteria that can spread to anything they touch, so it’s important to keep these away from other foods. The bacteria are removed during cooking, but it’s important not to let them come into contact with any food that you’re not going to cook before eating. You can buy colour-coded chopping boards (for example, red for raw meat and green for fruit and vegetables), which can help to prevent confusion.
If you cook food at temperatures over 70°C, it will kill off any bacteria. If food isn't cooked at a high enough temperature, bacteria can still survive. Here are some more tips for cooking food properly.
Produced by Rachael Mayfield-Blake, Bupa Health Information Team, August 2012.
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