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Handle with Care (part 1)

Healthy food handling, preparation and storage tips.

Occasionally a food scare hits the papers and botulism, salmonella, or e-coli is blamed for the death or serious illness of many people, and for a while there is a low-grade distrust of all food prepared by someone else, whether it is a takeaway shop, the school canteen or the neighbour at his barbecue. The sad fact though is that most food poisoning occurs at home and much of it can be prevented if some simple practices are followed.

Wash Your Hands

It's basic but it is vital. Anyone who is handling food should have clean hands. It is most important to wash hands after using the toilet or handling pets, but it is equally necessary after handling raw meat, especially poultry, touching your face or hands or children, using a handkerchief or tissue, and eating. Bacteria can be transferred to food by hands after handling other parts of the body. Once there it can multiply rapidly causing possible contamination.

Teach the Family Safe Habits

From an early age, children need to learn the importance of hand washing. They should be taught too that they should not sample sandwich spreads from the knives or spoons they are using. Returning these to the jars or containers will transfer bacteria and spoil the contents. Likewise drinking juice from a bottle in the fridge or from milk cartons is unsafe as bacteria from their mouths will multiply in the new environment.

Keep Utensils and Benches Clean

This may seem too simplistic, but many people imagine that a quick swipe with a cloth is enough. The truth is that many foods, such as raw meat and especially poultry, can leave a residue that is an ideal breeding ground for bacteria. Toxoplasmosis, especially dangerous to pregnant women, can be spread this way. All utensils, hands, and boards and benches should be scrubbed with hot soapy water immediately. Interestingly wooden cutting boards have been recently proved as less likely to allow contamination and bacterial growth than supposedly 'more clean' surfaces such as plastic and formica. Keep raw and cooked foods separated, in storage and preparation areas.

Insect Pests

Flies and cockroaches can spread disease and are often attracted by crumbs and other food debris left lying in a kitchen. Deal with them promptly either with a commercial product or a natural alternative like vanilla beans, said to deter cockroaches, or a pot of boiling vinegar on the stove, which is thought to repel flies. Ants and weevils, while annoying, are not a health risk. Bay leaves may keep insect pests away from flour and grains, or you can freeze or refrigerate these foods to keep them fresh and bug-free.

Care For Your Cans

While problems with canned foods are rare, occasionally something goes wrong in the canning process. Beware of any tin that is dented or bulging at the end. This can mean that gas is forming in the tin. A tin that 'pops' when opened or has bubbles or discolouration should be discarded. Botulism is a rare yet fatal form of food poisoning and can occur in canned foods. Transfer unused canned food to a glass or plastic container to store in the refrigerator.


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