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Food safety
NHS Direct Online Health Encyclopaedia

Introduction
Facts
Making changes
Risks
Recommendations
Selected links

Introduction
Food safety is really important in preventing an upset stomach or even poisoning. You need to think about how you prepare, store and cook food to keep it free from harmful bacteria that could make you or other people ill. Its especially important to think about food hygiene when catering for children, pregnant women and elderly people who may find it hard to fight off bacteria.

Simple measures, such as always washing your hands before preparing food, keeping your kitchen clean and storing raw meat separately from cooked meat, are important starting points. Food labels often give you storage, preparation and cooking instructions as well, which you should follow. Dont ignore use by dates, as the product may not be safe to eat or drink after this time. Remember that food can also go off before its use by date if its not stored properly, so use your common sense if in doubt, throw it out.

Facts
Wash your hands:Before you start any type of food preparation, make sure you wash your hands. You should also wash your hands after touching raw meat, using the toilet, gardening, touching the bin or handling pets. Dont forget to dry your hands too, as germs spread more easily in moist conditions.

Raw meat:

You can also stop bacteria spreading by keeping raw meat separate from cooked meat. Keep raw meat in a sealed container or bottom shelf of the fridge to stop it dripping onto cooked meat,and always use a different chopping board and utensils for preparing raw and cooked meat. Bacteria on raw meat isnt killed until you cook it, so wash your hands after preparing it and dont let it touch ready-to-eat products.

Cooking food:

Bacteria are killed by the heat, so its important to make sure food is cooked through before you serve it. Make a small cut in the middle of the food to check its piping hot steam should come out. If youre baking a cake or quiche, the middle should be set, and if youre cooking meat such as poultry, sausages or burgers, the juice should run clear and there should be no pink or red meat left.

Some types of meat are ok to eat rare (still red in the middle), such as steak, as long as they have been sealed during the cooking process. This means that the outside should change colour, for example as its fried, killing any bacteria on the surface. However, children, elderly people and pregnant women should make sure meat is cooked all the way through.

If you have leftover food that you want to reheat another day, let it cool down before putting it in the fridge and use it within a couple of days. When reheating food, check its piping hot in the middle and dont reheat it more than once.

Storing food:

Most products have storage instructions on the label its important to follow these so that the food is safe to eat and tastes at its best. Lots of ready-to-eat foods, dairy products and meat need to be kept in the fridge to stop bacteria growing on them. These sorts of foods should be left out of the fridge for the shortest time possible for example if youre having a buffet, put out things like sandwiches at the last minute. If youre saving leftover food, let it cool down as quickly as possible, cover it, and put it straight in the fridge.

Make sure fresh meat is covered and stored at the bottom of the fridge so it cant drip on anything. If youre freezing meat, try to do so on the day of purchase (make sure this is before the use by date). Defrost meat thoroughly before cooking lots of liquid will come out as it thaws, so stand it in a bowl or plate to stop bacteria in the juice spreading to other things.

Making changes
Pack and wrap:

Food is often packaged or wrapped in metallic containers such as tin cans or silver foil. When you open a can of food but dont use it all, empty the rest of the contents into another container and put it in the fridge. Dont put half empty cans of food in the fridge because when its open to the air, the metal can get into the food and contaminate it. You may want to avoid using kitchen foil to wrap acidic foods such as tomatoes and soft fruits because aluminium in the foil can affect their taste. And never use foil or metal containers in a microwave oven because they can damage the microwave or even catch fire.

Clingfilm can also be used to wrap or cover food, but it isnt suitable for everything. Dont use clingfilm if its going to melt such as over hot saucepans or on food thats still hot. It can be used in the microwave as long as it doesnt touch the food. Clingfilm isnt suitable for wrapping some high fat foods, such as cheese, fried meat and pastry check the packet instructions.

Keeping your kitchen clean:

Germs can spread in the kitchen very quickly, so its really important to clean as you go. Uncooked meat can easily contaminate other foods, utensils and surfaces, so wash your hands, wipe surfaces, and wash up as soon as you finish preparing raw meat. Make you sure you wash up with hot, soapy water, and let crockery air-dry if possible. Tea towels are a breeding ground for germs so make sure you wash them at a high temperature and change them regularly. Wipe down work surfaces with paper towels or disposable cloths.

Keep food cupboards clean, tidy and dry and throw out products that have gone past their sell-by date. After opening packets of dried foods, such as flour, rice and breakfast cereals, reseal them tightly or transfer the contents to storage jars with tight lids. Make sure your fridge and freezer are set to the correct temperature the fridge should be less than 5 degrees centigrade (41 farenheit) and the freezer should be minus 15 (5 farenheit). Clean out the fridge with a clean cloth regularly and defrost the freezer every few months or if theres a large build up of ice.

Use separate cloths and buckets when cleaning the floor. The kitchen bin is a haven for germs make sure it has a lid and change the bag regularly. Pets carry all sorts of germs and bacteria in their fur, so keep them off food preparation areas and make sure you clean their bowls separately from other utensils.

If you have babies or toddlers, try to keep the kitchen extra clean, as theyre likely to enjoy crawling around on the floor. Wipe high chairs, bibs and eating areas before and after every meal.

Shopping safely:

When buying fresh meat or fish, or other products from the delicatessen counter, make sure the shop assistant is wearing disposable gloves, or that they wash their hands between handling raw and cooked food.

Dont buy products that that have been damaged or opened, and look out for the amount of people touching the fresh fruit and vegetables this is why its important to wash them before eating.

Dont buy frozen products that are piled above the frost line in a shops freezer cabinet because they might have started defrosting. Try not to leave frozen and chilled products in a warm car boot for too long get your shopping home quickly and store it in the correct place.

Risks
Insects, birds and rodents carry bacteria that could cause illness, so make sure they dont get into the kitchen, and throw away any food they come into contact with. If youre getting flies and wasps in the kitchen, hang up a sticky insecticidal strip - do not use aerosol sprays in the kitchen. If you have an infestation of cockroaches, ants or other insects, its important to deal with the problem as quickly as possible you can get advice from your local Environmental Health Department or a commercial pest control agency.

Recommendations
If youre preparing food for a large group of people its particularly important to take care. Planning ahead can help make food in advance if you can and store it in the fridge. If youre short of space, move wine, beer and other drinks into a cool place, such as the garage. Even if people are waiting for food, dont shorten cooking times, and always check everythings cooked through before you serve it.

Barbeques:

When you cook food on a barbeque, it can be hard to tell when its done the biggest risk of food poisoning is from undercooked meat. You can avoid this by lighting the barbeque well in advance and waiting until the coals are glowing red with a powdery surface putting food on to cook before the flames have died down simply burns the surface and doesnt cook the inside. Turn food often as you cook it and move the grill shelf up a level if things are starting to burn.

If youre cooking for lots of people, it s often easier to cook meat in the oven and then finish it off on the barbeque. Make sure any frozen meat is fully defrosted before you cook it, and check everythings piping hot and cooked through before you serve it. Keep raw and cooked foods separate and use different plates and utensils for them. Keep salads, cheeses, dips and other perishable food in the fridge until the last minute.

Picnics:

If youre having a picnic, dont take perishable food such as cheese and meat out of the fridge until the last minute, and use a cool pack to keep it cold in the picnic box. Wash and cut up fruit, salad and vegetables before you leave, and try to wash your hands before eating or take antiseptic wipes.

Picnics can attract insects and birds, so keep food covered as much as possible and if you cant find a bin to dispose of your rubbish, take it home with you.

Parties and buffets:

The same rules apply to buffets wait until the last minute to take perishable food such as sandwiches out of the fridge. Try not to leave food out for more than a couple of hours throw leftovers away or put them straight back in the fridge.

© Queen's Printer and Controller of HMSO, 2005

Crown copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the controller of HMSO and the Queens Printer for Scotland.

 

 

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