“There is no sincerer love than the love of food.” George Bernard Shaw
Filipinos love to eat and share what we eat. Get-togethers are never complete without food, preferably with rice. However, media attention has recently been focused on the rising incidence of food poisoning, mostly involving adults and children who attended parties. Ideally, the food that is served in our table should be clean and appropriate for human consumption. However, one study suggested that food handlers, particularly in small food businesses, sometimes lack the basic knowledge in food hygiene. There have been numerous reports on canteens and restaurants with cockroaches and insects allegedly diving in the food uninvited. This can be addressed if proper hygiene is followed and the rules set by the government on food safety are strictly implemented.
At home, preventing food poisoning is simple. Below are some helpful tips for keeping your food yummy, fresh and safe for eating.
Let’s start with the basics: hand washing. Hand washing is the single most important act that can prevent contamination and infection. Wash hands frequently before, during and after cooking, especially when chopping multiple ingredients. Of course, your hands are not the only ones you should wash. Your utensils should be clean, as well. Cutting boards, knives, pots, and pans should be washed preferably using antibacterial soap and in warm water immediately after use. Compared to plastic cutting boards, those made from wood are harder to clean and are thus more prone to harbor bacteria.
Don’t forget to separate raw food from ready-to-eat food to avoid contamination. When doing groceries, ask the attendant to pack them carefully in separate, sealed plastics so that the juices coming from the meat or fish will not seep through your other food items. We live in a tropical country and the heat can cause food to spoil quickly. Plan doing your groceries, avoid unnecessary pit stops to prevent spoilage and don’t leave them in the trunk of your car for too long.
Food can be tricky. Some need to be refrigerated, some don’t. As a rule, perishable and raw food should be refrigerated (or frozen, if needed) immediately after purchase. When in doubt, check the label. If you plan on cooking a frozen food item, defrost it properly by allowing it to thaw inside the refrigerator. Once you defrost a food item, cook it immediately and do NOT freeze it again.
Never rely on the “look/ taste test”. Looks can be deceiving, even in food. If you are unsure of how food is stored, prepared, served, do not eat it. Food left at room temperature for too long can be a festival ground for bacteria, so when in doubt, discard it.
Food should be cooked properly before consumption. Most bacteria like Salmonella and E. coli are killed by cooking food at the right temperature. The ideal way to do this is to use a food thermometer while cooking. The following are the ideal temperatures for cooking particular food items:
- Ground beef: 71.1° C (160°F)
- Steak, lamb/pork chops: 62.8°C (145°F)
- Chicken/turkey: 73.9°C (165°F)
- Fish and shellfish: 50-60°C (125-140°F) depending on the type
When cooking pre-packed food, always check the expiration date and the recommended cooking temperature and duration indicated in the label. If you are pregnant, nursing or immune-compromised, it is best to steer away from raw fish and meat. Children should not be fed raw or undercooked food items.
And let’s not forget the water: drink water only if it’s safe and clean. When in doubt, boil the water first before drinking.
Food Hit List
Extra caution should be made when eating these types of food items because they are prone to contamination:
- Shellfish and raw fish: Avoid buying these kinds of food during red tides. Carefully pick out fish to ensure quality and freshness, even when buying from high-end groceries.
- Eggs and dairy products: Check the expiration dates on those eggs. Avoid drinking unpasteurized milk (pasteurization kills bacteria). Hard cheese, processed, cream, and cottage cheese are usually safe. Soft cheeses like feta, brie, and blue-veined cheese are usually made from unpasteurized milk so avoid them too.
- Vegetables: Wash them thoroughly before consumption. Sprouts can also harbor bacteria, so avoid eating them raw.
- Hot dogs, sausages and deli meats: These should ideally be cooked properly before eating.
- Canned food: check the expiration dates always! If the can has a bulge or dent, discard it right away.
- Honey: do not give honey to children less than 2 years of age, as this might cause botulism.
What to do, just in case
Despite careful preparation, those cunning bacteria can still slip and cause food spoilage. Food poisoning will usually manifest as vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and weakness. If you ate out and (unfortunately) become a victim of food poisoning, inform the proper authorities right away (restaurant staff, party host, caterer, etc). This is to ensure that the other guests who ate the same food as you did are informed and instructed properly. In the meantime, you can do the following measures at home to keep yourself hydrated and nourished.
- Rest and avoid unnecessary activities.
- Avoid alcoholic beverages, caffeine, and soda.
- Eat in small, frequent feedings. Avoid fatty and spicy food. It’s best to stick to crackers and plain lugaw.
- Stock up on ORS. Oral rehydration salts or ORS keeps you away from dehydration by replacing the chemicals that you lose through vomiting or LBM.
- If symptoms worsen or persist, visit your health care provider immediately. Remember that the children, elderly, pregnant/ nursing mothers and immune-compromised are easily susceptible to dehydration and might need medical attention right away.
So there you are. We hope we gave you enough tips to avoid food poisoning. Happy eating!