Contaminated and unsafe food, especially in summers, causes more infections and diseases that range from diarrhea and cramps to severe infections like jaundice and typhoid. More than 200 diseases are spread through contaminated food or water. Still, most of us don't always know what went into our last meal.
"Not many would know that the most dangerous bacteria that cause food poisoning do not affect food's look, smell, or taste. The food may look perfectly alright to eat yet could be contaminated, especially in the hot weather" says Dr Anil Kumar, head of epidemiology division, National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
These bacteria, viruses and parasites invade and multiply in the lining of the intestines and other tissues, even reaching the intestinal tract and releasing harmful toxins.
At the household level, food safety starts from buying things from the market and extends to how one stores things at home and ultimately how the food is cooked.
As for storing food, raw and cooked food needs to be stored separately to stop cross-contamination.
Maintaining temperature is important; hot foods should be eaten hot and cold food should be maintained under adequately cold temperature. Food should not be stored in a refrigerator for very long. Just because food is kept in refrigerator does not mean it won't spoil.
Here are some steps to help readers know how they can make their food safe.
*Wash hands before handling food and often during food preparation.
*Wash your hands after going to toilet, handling pets etc.
*Wash and sanitise all surfaces and equipment used in food preparation.
*Protect kitchen areas and food from insects, pets and other animals.
Why? While most microorganisms do not cause disease, dangerous microorganisms are widely found in soil, water, animals and people. These organisms 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.
Follow basic hygiene. Always keep your hands clean to avoid contamination. (Shutterstock)
Separate raw and cooked food
*Separate raw meat, poultry and seafood from other foods to stop cross-contamination.
*Use separate equipment and utensils such as knives and cutting boards for handling raw foods.
*Store food in containers to avoid contact between the raw and the cooked foods.
Why? Raw food, especially meat, poultry and seafood, and their juices contain dangerous microorganisms which may be transferred onto other foods during food preparation and storage.
*Cook thoroughly especially meat, poultry, eggs and seafood.
*Bring foods like soups and stews to boiling to make sure that they have reached 70 degrees Celsius.
*For meat and poultry make sure the juices are clear and not pink.
*Reheat cooked food thoroughly.
*Ideally use a thermometer to check temperature.
Why? Proper cooking kills almost all dangerous microorganisms. Studies have shown that cooking food to a temperature of 70 degrees Celsius 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.
Keep food at safe temperatures
*Keep food at safe temperature: Danger zone is between 5 degrees Celsius and 60 degrees Celsius.
*Do not leave cooked food at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
*Refrigerate cooked food and all perishable items as quickly as possible as bacteria can develop in foods within 2 hours at room temperature.
*Refrigerate all cooked and perishable foods preferably below 5 degrees Celsius.
*Do not store food too long even in the refrigerator. Consume it quickly.
*Do not thaw frozen food at room temperature as it causes bacteria to grow rapidly.
*Keep cooked food piping hot (more than 60 degrees C) prior to serving.
Why? Microorganisms can multiply very quickly if food is stored at room temperature. By holding at temperature below 5 degrees Celsius or above 60 degrees Celsius, the growth of microorganisms is slowed down or stopped. Some dangerous microorganisms still grow below 5 degrees Celsius.
Use safe water and raw materials
*Use safe water or treat it to make it safe for use.
*Select fresh and wholesome foods.
*Choose foods processed for safety such as pasteurised milk.
*Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly under running water, especially if eaten raw.
*Do not use food beyond its expiry date.
Why? Raw materials, including water and ice, may be 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.