herald

Monday 25 September 2017

Stay safe in your kitchen

We prepare and eat food several times a day, yet for most people, food safety is not something at the forefront of their minds.

Beyond the basics of food safety and hygiene, such as washing your hands and ensuring food is prepared on clean surfaces, most of us have formed certain habits when it comes to preparing, storing and cooking it.

Unfortunately, they are often unhealthy habits, and these can lead to all sorts of illnesses for you and your family. We don't expect you just to know all the ins and outs of good food and hygiene practice, which is why we have compiled this comprehensive guide for you. Read on and change your kitchen habits for the better.

The first place to be diligent is in the supermarket. When buying food in tins, avoid ones with dents or bulges in them. If a tin looks bloated or swollen it could mean bacteria has started to produce gasses, which push the can outward. Also be wary if a can is rusting -- rust can weaken the can and allow air and bacteria to enter. When it comes to your shopping trolley, always keep raw meats separate from cooked meats.

The same thing applies when packing shopping -- put raw meat in separate bags and away from cooked meat to avoid cross-contamination. This occurs when harmful micro-organisms from raw food are transferred to ready-to-eat or cooked food. It can also occur via human hands, equipment, or utensils. Try to buy frozen foods last and pack them in a cooler bag if possible -- most supermarkets sell these and they are reusable.

Once home from shopping we often find ourselves unloading groceries by stuffing food into whatever cupboard or part of the fridge or freezer it will fit in, but some careful consideration can make a difference, not only to its shelf life but its quality and taste, too. Put your frozen and chilled items away as soon as you get home from shopping. Over-packing your fridge can raise the temperature, especially if the door is constantly being opened by hungry children. Be mindful when shopping that you have enough room in your fridge and freezer to store all items.

Refrigeration is very important when storing food. We refrigerate food because bacteria cannot thrive below 6C -- therefore the ideal fridge temperature is between zero and 5C. This ensures food remains ready for cooking or eating and the bacteria or viruses cannot multiply. Raw meat should always be stored on the bottom shelf of the fridge -- this prevents the risk of cross contamination from juices dripping down onto other foods.

Some of this may appear basic, but handling and preparing food correctly is vital to maintaining good health. Our hands can harbour all sorts of bacteria, especially under the fingernails, so it's vital to be diligent about washing them before handling or preparing any food or after handling raw meat, fish or poultry. Always give counters and tables a wipe-down before preparing or eating food. No matter how clean surfaces appear they can still harbour invisible bacteria, so a spray of antibacterial solution and a good scrub is advisable. When chopping food, use separate chopping boards for raw meat, fish or poultry and vegetables. The same applies to knives -- wash thoroughly after using them to cut raw meat before you use them to chop vegetables. You should replace chopping boards regularly, especially if they have scored knife marks, as bacteria can thrive here. Throw out old washcloths and dishcloths too -- we've probably all been guilty of hanging on to a cleaning sponge too long, but it is best to dump it as soon as it is looking a bit worn.

We all have our own little quirks when it comes to cooking and it rarely occurs to us to do things differently, but just a few minor changes can ensure that food is cooked thoroughly and safely. You may be a bit of a Nigella in the kitchen, but if your cooking temperatures aren't correct then you might as well hang up your apron. Food should be cooked to a core temperature of 70C for two minutes -- this will kill off any bacteria. When it comes to cooking chicken, pork or burgers, make sure their juices run clear before serving. It can sometimes be difficult to judge cooking times on microwaves so always check the manufacturer's booklet for instructions. If your microwave has no turntable be sure to stir or turn food regularly as you cook and always leave food to sit for a minute after taking it out of the microwave as food continues to cook after the microwave has been switched off.

Finally, regularly cleaning out the fridge and cupboards is obvious but essential, and never cook for others if you are feeling ill. It doesn't take much effort to have a safe hygienic kitchen -- and your tummy will be thankful, too.

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