Earlier this year, South Africa faced the biggest listeriosis outbreak in the world. Although considerable steps have been taken to control the listeria outbreak, the recent recall of certain frozen foods at supermarkets has left consumers anxious.
According to the Food Standards Agency, four out of five people globally put themselves at risk of food-related illnesses due to poor hygiene habits in the kitchen.
The SA Chef's Association
“It’s important for us as consumers to understand the ways in which bacteria can spread during the handling, preparation and storage of food,” says James Khoza, President of the SA Chefs Association.
“Poor domestic and personal hygiene practices can enable the transmission of disease-causing micro-organisms.
This is why it is critical to identify the hidden ways that dangerous bacteria and other micro-organisms can be spread through the kitchen, and how better health and hygiene choices can be implemented to reduce risks,” explains Karin Kok, the G360 solutions and support manager of institutional Middle East/Africa for ECOLAB.
The South African Chefs Association together with ECOLAB, shares three preventative steps to avoid food related illnesses at home and at work.
Prepare food properly
- Microorganisms can be transferred during food preparation and therefore the most important thing to consider when handling food is to have clean hands. This means washing your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap repeatedly during the food preparation process.
- Raw food from animal sources such as beef, pork or poultry should be thoroughly cooked to a safe internal temperature of above 60°C, except for chicken which should be above 75°C. Food that is kept warm between 40 and 60°C is a breeding ground for bacteria so if you are reheating cooked food, make sure it’s above 60°C.
- When preparing fruit and vegetables, make sure to rinse them under running water before eating to remove any soil-dwelling pathogens. If you do not have access to clean water, boil it before using it to rinse your food.
Keep the kitchen clean
- Kitchens harbour more micro-organisms than any other room in the office or kitchen, which is why keeping it clean is of paramount importance.
- This includes disinfecting worktop counters, thoroughly cleaning chopping boards and utensils as well as regularly changing dish cloths and tea towels.
- Utilising disposable dishcloths is a good option to avoid cross-contamination, and where possible, use non-porous cutting boards as they do not pose the same threats in harbouring bacteria.
- Unlike other food-borne pathogens, Listeria monocytogenes can grow in refrigerated foods that are contaminated.
- To prevent Listeria make a habit of cleaning the inside walls and shelves of your fridge with hot water and liquid soap once a week. If there is a spill in your refrigerator, especially juices from lunch meat packages, raw meat and poultry – clean it immediately and disinfect the area with a household bleach or disinfectant.
Store food adequately
- Be conscious of best-before dates, they are there for a reason.
- Storing food for too long in the refrigerator is dangerous and leftovers should be used within three to four days.
- To store leftovers, divide them into shallow containers as this promotes rapid and even cooling and label your leftover food with the date of storage.
- Ensure your fridge is set to the right temperature: it should be below 4⁰C and food should be cooled within two hours.
- As per SA Regulation 962, freezer temperatures can range between -12 and -18⁰C, but it is recommended that your freezer temperature is set below -18⁰C.
- It is highly recommended that raw meat, poultry and seafood are kept separate to avoid ccross-contamination Also remember that if you are handling or storing food, do not touch food that has been cooked, unless you have washed your hands.