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How to Avoid Food Poisoning

How to Avoid Food Poisoning

Access to safe food and water is a basic right of individuals across the world. However, one out of three or four people across the world suffers from food poisoning each year. Food poisoning refers to the contamination of food by harmful or toxic organisms that make a person sick, or in worse cases, can lead to death.

Food poisoning concerns in Africa

In Africa, foodborne illnesses are considered a public health concern with the continent having the highest foodborne illnesses rates per capita. As per the WHO (World Health Organization), foodborne hazards cause 91 million severe illnesses and 137,000deaths each year in Africa. A majority of these incidents involve children below the age of five.

Recently, a listeria outbreak in South Africa killed over 200 people while sickening over a thousand. Listeria is one of the foodborne illnesses caused by a type of bacteria causing symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhoea, nausea, headache, stiff neck, confusion and seizures. The cause of listeria was traced to contaminated processed lunch meat (‘polony’) in a factory owned by a packaged foods manufacturer.

What causes food poisoning?

Food contamination or poisoning is caused by harmful microorganisms such as virus, bacteria, fungus or parasites. While there are many types of microorganisms, some strains of bacteria such as E. coli, salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes and Clostridium perfringens are particularly toxic. These cause illnesses such as gastroenteritis, listeria and salmonellosis.

Steps to take to avoid food poisoning

While every individual need to pay attention to food safety, food handlers in restaurants, packaged or processed food manufacturing units and cafeterias need to be very thorough with safe food handling practices. As the above example of the listeria outbreak shows, a minor error in food handling can lead to a public health disaster.

Here are some of the basic strategies you can adopt to avoid food poisoning:

  • Many of the harmful organisms grow in foods and can survive even in low temperatures. For example, the bacteria that causes listeria can grow at less than 5°C temperatures and multiply when food is refrigerated. Pasteurisation of liquids such as milk or processed juices is the best way to kill such bacteria. Pasteurisation of milk or juices involves heating it to 71.7°C for 15 to 25 seconds and then cooling it quickly to below 3 degrees Celsius to make it safe to drink.
  • Many harmful bacteria can survive the standard cooking temperatures when food is stored for prolonged periods in a warm place after cooking. The warm temperatures encourage the growth of bacteria which cause illnesses after the food is eaten. Follow the temperature chart for specific foods to ensure they are cooked to the right, recommended temperatures. For most foods, the safe temperatures are between 65 to 75 degrees Celsius.
  • Refrigerate foods promptly after they are cooked by cooling them down quickly. Divide leftovers or cooked foods into shallow containers to ensure quicker cooling· Use a thermometer to make sure the freezer temperature is below or equal to -18 degrees Celsius.
  • If food is not served immediately after cooking, store it at less than 4 degree Celsius (40°F) or above 60 degrees Celsius (140°F). Germs grow quickly between 4°C and 60°C. You can use a slow cooker, warming tray or a chafing dish to keep food above 60°C.
  • Refrigerate perishables such as meat, eggs and dairy within 2 hours of purchasing or cooking. If the temperature outside is hot and humid, store these foods within one hour of purchasing.
  • Always thaw food in the refrigerator, microwave or cold water and cook the thawed food immediately.
  • Raw meat is a major food poisoning hazard and can cause germs to spread to other foods or surfaces. Separate raw meat and poultry from other foods, use separate cutting board and utensils for raw foods. Wash cutting boards, utensils and plates that have come in contact with any raw food with hot and soapy water.
  • Wash your hands frequently before, after and during handling food, before eating, after handling raw meat, uncooked eggs or poultry and after coughing, sneezing or touching an open wound/cut.
  • Avoid handling food if you have an infectious disease or a foodborne illness One of the most effective ways to avoid food poisoning as a food handler is to partner with reputed workplace health and safety consultants.

With decades of experience in all aspects of food safety, these occupational health experts can train all food handlers on best practices of food handling with engaging, customised and easy to grasp training content.

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