Jill Rhynard of the Cariboo Press reports that it is estimated that hundreds of British Columbians get sick from food poisoning every day.
The symptoms are very unpleasant (stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea) but usually go away after one to three days. The young and elderly are particularly vulnerable to serious consequences. Here are some simple safety rules to help you avoid food poisoning.
Meats, poultry, fish and eggs are the worst offenders for containing harmful bacteria, viruses and parasites. Anything made with these foods should be well cooked.
Don’t leave food to cool on the counter for longer than two hours. If you want to freeze a large item, like a soup, separate into portions no more than three inches thick and freeze within two hours.
Not all harmful bacteria is killed by cooking and so all food should reach at least 74 degrees Celsius when re-heating. Do not reheat your leftovers more than once.
While cooking in the microwave is fast, the heat distribution is uneven. Microwaved foods need to be covered, stirred, or rotated at least once to improve heat distribution. Allow your food to stand for two minutes after heating.
Avoid the danger zone
Harmful bacteria grow rapidly between 4 degrees and 60 degrees Celsius, so potentially hazardous foods should be kept either colder or hotter. Don’t leave food to thaw on the counter. If you are going somewhere with food – like a picnic or potluck – transport the food appropriately. Use an insulated bag to keep cold food cold, and hot food hot.
Protect your foods
Ensure that ready-to-eat foods are protected from contamination. Wrap raw meat so it doesn’t drip on other foods. Transport and refrigerate your perishable food as quickly as possible to limit the growth time of bacteria. Ready-to-eat food should be stored in the fridge above uncooked foods. Always read the label for storage directions.
Wash your hands
Proper hand-washing practices are essential after using the washroom, before putting anything in your mouth, and before handling all food.
Sanitize food contact surfaces
To avoid cross-contamination, cutting boards, plates, and utensils must always be washed and sanitized before ready-to-eat foods are placed on them. (Sanitizing solution: 1 teaspoon of bleach to 1 litre of water). Dishcloths are a breeding ground for bacteria and should be well washed and sanitized between uses.
Always wash fresh fruits and vegetables
Wash fresh fruits and vegetable thoroughly, paying close attention to vegetables that will be served raw, and fruits that don’t have their skin removed.
Exclude sick people
Harmful bacteria and viruses can be spread from food handlers to the food they are preparing.
Any person who has diarrhea, is nauseated, or has infected cuts or sores, should not be allowed to handle food at all. And please, don’t go to school, work, day care, etc.
Don’t take chances with your food. Contaminated foods don’t always look or smell bad so if in doubt, throw it out!
If you suspect you have food poisoning, see your doctor so a diagnosis can be made, and the health unit notified.