Hot summers and humid monsoons in India can wreak havoc on foods kept outside of the fridge. But there are other food contamination culprits to look out for too: dirty washcloths, unclean surfaces and utensils made of less-than-ideal, bacteria-harboring materials.
Food containing harmful bacteria can make you very unwell. Some forms of food poisoning infections can even require hospitalization for complications such as severe dehydration.
To avoid food-borne illnesses, you need to know how to ensure the food you eat is safe for consumption. This means understanding how to store and cook ingredients and following good kitchen hygiene practices. To cook safely at home and prevent food poisoning, don’t miss out on these essential safety tips.
Cooking safely at home starts with preventative measures, which is why it’s important to know the proper hygiene and safety measures you need to take when handling food.
Dishcloths and scrub pads are one of the main sources of bacteria in the kitchen. They should be disinfected every three or four days. To do this, machine washcloths at about 60ºC or microwave them in a bowl of water for three minutes until the water boils. Heat will prevent the formation of bacteria that are harmful to humans. You should also remember to wash these cloths with liquid detergent after each use, rinse them well and air dry. Finally, don’t forget to replace your kitchen cloths and scrub pads from time to time.
It’s common to use wooden utensils in our home kitchens. However, since wood is porous and can splinter, food remnants can get trapped causing bacteria to grow. More hygienic kitchen utensils are made of stainless steel, plastic or silicone. When it comes to chopping boards, wood can pose the same problems of harboring bacteria because of its difficulty to clean. If you want to use a wooden cutting board, look for one made of hard, high-density wood, since they are less porous and more resistant to everyday wear and tear. The best boards are those made from olive, walnut or beech wood. Alternatively, glass cutting boards are cost-effective and easy to wash.
Using soap and water is the most hygienic method for cleaning your countertops. However, to maintain good food safety, you should not dry the surfaces with a kitchen cloth. Instead, a single-use paper towel will prevent bacteria from building up.
One essential rule is to wash your hands using soap and water before handling food as this will eliminate any bacteria and prevent contamination from reaching your plate. In addition, fruit and vegetables should always be washed thoroughly before being consumed.
We should also pay special attention to raw meat. The rapid appearance of pathogens, such as salmonella, is common if meat is left sitting at room temperature. That’s why meat should be stored in a refrigerator at about 5ºC. Eating raw meat can also pose a risk to our health. Heat is the best way to avoid risks: cooking meat at temperatures above 70ºC will eliminate bacteria, such as listeria or Escherichia coli (E. coli).
Summers are hot in India, and bacteria can thrive if frozen food thaw in warm temperatures. It’s best to keep frozen food in the fridge to thaw out and then heat it at temperatures above 60ºC to ensure it’s safe for consumption. Also avoid refreezing previously frozen foods, especially if those foods are raw.
Recipes containing raw eggs can pose a risk of foodborne illnesses, such as salmonella. If you can’t buy pasteurized eggs that have been treated to destroy salmonella, avoid eating foods that contain uncooked eggs. These include uncooked cookie dough, some salad dressings or homemade ice cream made with eggs. If you make mayonnaise at home, be sure to keep it well refrigerated.
Anisakis is a parasite that can be found in fish and shellfish, and consuming it can cause nausea and stomach pain. Avoid eating raw or undercooked fish and shellfish at home and make sure you place these items in your fridge or freezer as soon as you get home from the shops to keep them at a steady temperature.
Raw milk contains bacteria, such as campylobacter, salmonella, E. coli and listeria. To ensure food safety, it’s best to buy pasteurized milk. If you prefer to consume raw milk, it’s important to boil it first.
Spoiled or contaminated food can cause illness that can even lead to hospitalization. Symptoms such as severe vomiting, dehydration, extreme weakness or underlying illnesses may all require dedicated medical care at a hospital to get better. That’s why having adequate health insurance is so crucial to avoid large medical bills should you need a short hospital stay to get back on your feet.