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How safe and hygienic is your food?

According to the World Health Organisation estimates, around two million deaths occur globally, every year, due to food and water contamination. On World Health Day, we delve into this year’s theme, food safety

There are over 200 diseases caused by contaminated food or drinking water that contain harmful bacteria, parasites, viruses and chemical substances. Millions fall ill and many die due to this. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), diarrhoeal diseases alone kill an estimated 1.5 million children annually, and most of these illnesses are attributed to contaminated food or drinking water. Proper food preparation can prevent most food-borne diseases. We spoke to Dr Jyotsna Zope, consultant nephrologist, Dr Pradeep Gadge, consultant diabetologist and Naini Setalvad, nutritionist, for more handful tips on handling food…

Unsafe food can cause cancer and neurological disorders. The most common symptoms of food-borne disease are stomach pains, vomiting and diarrhoea. Food contaminated with heavy metals or with naturally occurring toxins can also cause long-term health problems including cancer and neurological disorders. Adulteration of milk is another problem. Milk suppliers add salt to slow down the decomposition process of milk and often, cane sugar is added to it. Consumption of such milk lead to multiple health hazards.

Food contamination can take place anytime, anywhere. There are many opportunities for food contamination. It can happen even in the confines of your home, if you are not wary of the temperature to store particular foods in, if you do not wash food well before consumption and also if you do not cook thoroughly. Today’s food supply is complex and involves a range of different stages including on-farm production, slaughtering or harvesting, processing, storage, transport and distribution before the food reaches the consumers, so better be safe.

Food-borne diseases affect vulnerable people harder. For infants, pregnant women, the sick and elderly, the consequences of food-borne disease and infections caused by contamination, are usually more severe and may be fatal.

Some harmful bacteria are becoming resistant to drug treatments. One of the major, growing, global health concerns is antimicrobial resistance. In human clinical use, agriculture and animal husbandry, there is a major overuse and misuse of antimicrobials. This is one of the factors that are leading to the spread of antimicrobial resistance, states WHO. Antimicrobial-resistant bacteria in animals may be transmitted to humans via food and can prove harmful.

Food safety is a shared responsibility between governments, industry, producers, academia, and consumers. Everyone has a role to play. Achieving food safety is a multi-sectoral effort requiring expertise from a range of different disciplines — toxicology, microbiology, parasitology, nutrition, health economics, and human and veterinary medicine. Local communities, women’s groups and school education also play an important role.

Maintain hygiene at all times
- Wash your hands before handling food and often during food preparation.
- Wash your hands after going to the toilet.
- Wash and sanitise your kitchen surfaces and equipments often, as the kitchen tends to contains the most germs.
Protect kitchen areas and food from insects, pests and other animals.

Separate raw and cooked foods
- Separate raw meat, poultry and seafood from other foods.
– This should not only be followed at home but in your shopping cart too so that there is no cross contamination which can lead to gastrointestinal diseases.
– Use separate equipment and utensils such as knives and cutting boards for handling raw foods.
– Store food in containers to avoid contact between raw and prepared foods.

Cook your food thoroughly
– Cook food thoroughly, especially meat, poultry, eggs and seafood.
- Bring foods like soups and stews to boil to make sure that they have reached 70°C. For meat and poultry, make sure that juices are clear, not pink. Ideally, use a thermometer.
- Reheat cooked food thoroughly.

Keep food at safe temperatures
- Don’t leave cooked food at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
- Refrigerate all cooked and perishable food (preferably below 5°C).
- Keep cooked food piping hot (more than 60°C) prior to serving.
- Do not store food too long even in the refrigerator.
Do not thaw frozen food at room temperature.

Use safe water and raw materials
- Use safe water or treat it to make it safe.
- Select fresh and wholesome foods.
– Choose foods processed for safety, such as pasteurised milk.
Wash fruits and vegetables, especially if eaten raw.
- Do not ever use food beyond its expiry date.

Why you need to have properly cooked food?
Proper cooking kills almost all dangerous microorganisms. Studies have shown that cooking food to a temperature of 70°C can help ensure it is safe for consumption. Foods that require special attention include minced meats, rolled roasts, large joints of meat and whole poultry.

Why washing and sanitising your hands frequently is essential…
While most microorganisms do not cause diseases, dangerous microorganisms are widely found in soil, water, animals and people. These microorganisms are carried on hands, wiping cloths and utensils, especially cutting boards and the slightest contact can transfer them to food and cause food-borne diseases.

Why is using safe water and raw materials essential?
Use filtered water for cleaning your vegetables and dry them thoroughly before cooking, suggests Naini Setalvad, Nutritionist on the Panel of Washington Apples. Raw materials, including water and ice, maybe contaminated with dangerous microorganisms and chemicals. Toxic chemicals may be formed in damaged and mouldy foods. Care in selection of raw materials and simple measures such as washing and peeling may reduce the risk.

Why raw food should be separated from cooked?
Raw food, especially meat, poultry and seafood, and their juices, can contain dangerous microorganisms, which may be transferred onto other foods during food preparation and storage.

Why you need to keep food at proper temperature?
This is essential, otherwise the food will rot and can cause food poisoning leading to loose motions, vomiting and thus dehydration. Also microorganisms can multiply quickly at room temperature. So by holding temperature below 5°C or above 60°C, the growth is slowed down or stopped. However there are some dangerous microorganisms that still grow below 5°C.

source:thetimesofindia