Did you know, according to WHO, an estimated 600 million – almost 1 in 10 people in the world – fall ill after eating contaminated food and 420, 000 die every year, resulting in the loss of 33 million healthy life years (DALYs)? It’s statistical proof that food safety, nutrition and food security are undeniably linked. Contrary to popular belief, food-borne illnesses do not only cause a few tummy aches or a few trips to the bathroom, but it can also cause serious health problems—even death.
But you can help keep your family safe from food poisoning at home by following these four simple steps: CLEAN, AVOID CROSS-CONTAMINATION (SEPARATE), COOK and CHILL. These key steps are also known as the four C’s. Let’s go through each of them carefully.
CLEAN: WASH YOUR HANDS, UTENSILS and COOKING AREAS/SURFACES OFTEN
- Wash hands in warm soapy water and scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails for at least 20 seconds. Do this before and after touching food.
- You should always wash your hands thoroughly before you prepare, cook or eat food, after handling raw food such as raw meat, uncooked eggs and unwashed fruit and vegetables and after touching the bin, going to the toilet, blowing your nose or touching your pets.
- Wash your cutting boards, dishes, forks, spoons, knives, and counter tops with hot soapy water. Do this after working with each food item.
- If possible, use different utensils and chopping boards for raw and ready to eat foods, or wash them thoroughly between tasks.
- Rinse fruits and veggies. Rinse them under running water without soap, bleach, or commercial produce washes. Also, be sure to wash them before peeling, removing skin, or cutting away any damaged or bruised areas.
- Do not wash meat, poultry, fish, or eggs. If water splashes from the sink in the process of washing, it can spread bacteria.
- Clean the lids on canned goods before opening.
- Wash dishcloths regularly and let them dry before use. You should wash dishcloths using the hot cycle of your washing machine.
AVOID CROSS-CONTAMINATION: KEEP RAW MEAT AND OTHER RAW ANIMAL PRODUCTS SEPARATE FROM OTHER FOODS. IT IS EASY FOR GERMS TO SPREAD FROM ONE FOOD TO ANOTHER.
- When grocery shopping, keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, and their juices away from other foods.
- Keep raw or marinating meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separate from all other foods in the refrigerator. Store raw meat, poultry, and seafood in sealed containers or packages so the juices don’t leak onto other foods.
- Keep raw meat in a sealed container at the bottom of the fridge.
- Do not reuse marinades used on raw foods unless you bring them to a boil first.
- Use one cutting board for fresh produce or other foods that won’t be cooked before they’re eaten, and another for raw meat, poultry, or seafood. Replace them when they are worn.
- Use separate plates and utensils for cooked and raw foods.
- Use hot, soapy water to thoroughly wash plates, utensils, and cutting boards that touched raw meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, or flour.
- DO NOT REUSE any container or bowl that has held raw foods, especially raw meat and poultry, until it has been thoroughly cleaned.
COOK: FOOD NEEDS TO BE COOKED AT THE RIGHT TEMPERATURE.
You can be sure that your food is safely cooked when the internal temperature is high enough to kill any bacteria that can make you sick. Here are some tips to keep in mind when cooking your food.
- Cook to safe temperatures:
- Beef, Pork, Lamb 145 °F/62.7 C
- Fish 145 °F/62.7 C
- Ground Beef, Pork, Lamb 160 °F/71 C
- Turkey, Chicken, Duck 165 °F/74 C
- Leftovers and casseroles: 165°F/74 C
- Use a food thermometer to make sure that food is done. You can’t always tell by looking.
- Keep food hot (140˚F or above/60 C or above) after cooking. If you’re not serving food right after cooking, keep it out of the temperature danger zone (between 40°F -140°F/4-60 C) where germs grow rapidly by using a heat source like a warming tray.
- Never leave food out for more than two hours, including cut fruits and vegetables.
- Microwave food thoroughly (165˚F/74 C or above). Read package directions for cooking and follow them exactly to make sure food is thoroughly cooked.
- Reheating food:
- Thaw food by using the refrigerator, microwave, oven, or by placing sealed packages in cold running water. Never thaw food on the kitchen counter. The outer layers will warm before the inside thaws. Bacteria will grow in these conditions.
- Make sure that it’s steaming hot and heated all the way through to 75°C.
- Use chilled food within 2 days of cooking. If the food has been cooked, frozen and then defrosted, reheat within 24 hours.
- You should only ever reheat food once. The more times you cool and reheat food, the higher the risk of food poisoning
CHILL: REFRIGERATE and FREEZE FOOD PROPERLY
Bacteria can multiply rapidly if left at room temperature or in the “Danger Zone” between 40°F/4 C and 140°F/60 C.
- Follow the 2-Hour Rule: Put foods in the fridge or freezer within 2 hours after cooking or buying from the store. Do this within 1 hour if it is 90 F/32 C or hotter outside.
- Your refrigerator should be set to 40°F/4 C or below and your freezer to 0°F or below/ -17 C or below. Use an appliance thermometer to be sure.
- Leftovers should be placed in shallow containers and refrigerated promptly to allow quick cooling.
- Thaw frozen food safely in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave. Never thaw food on the counter because bacteria multiply quickly in the parts of the food that reach room temperature.
- Freezing does not destroy harmful germs, but it does keep food safe until you can cook it.
- Know when to throw out food. Use a dating system to make sure foods are used before their expiry date. Be sure you throw food out before harmful bacteria grow.
- Marinate foods in the fridge only.
- Clean the refrigerator and freezer regularly to remove spoiled foods that may transfer bacteria or molds to other food.
- Do not overstock the refrigerator. Allow the air to circulate freely, which will help keep food cool more effectively.
- Raw meat, fish and poultry can’t be frozen again after they’ve been defrosted.
- Cooked meat, fish and poultry can be frozen as long as they’ve been cooled. You should only refreeze these foods once after cooking as the more times you cool and reheat food, the higher the risk of food poisoning.
- Foods stored in the freezer, such as ice cream and frozen desserts, should not be returned to the freezer once they have thawed.
By following these good food hygiene practices, you can help keep your food safe and prevent the spread of foodborne illnesses. Remove the worry of food poisoning with every meal by keeping the 4 C’s of food safety to heart.
About The Author
Dr. Hannah is a highly-skilled and compassionate physician who completed her medical degree at Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila in 2014. She passed the Physician Licensure Exam in 2015, and has since gained experience working in various hospitals and clinics throughout Metro Manila. For three years, she served as a physician on duty at a dialysis institute, caring for patients with chronic lifestyle diseases.
As a primary care physician, Dr. Hannah is dedicated to providing patient-centered care that takes into account the whole person, not just their illness. She believes in empowering her patients to take an active role in their healthcare, and believes that this type of doctor-patient relationship is key to achieving optimal health.