Summer is a time for merriment, outdoor fun, picnics and barbecues with family and friends. While eating out is a very enjoyable experience, it should be remembered that summer time provides the ideal conditions for food spoilage. Microbes multiply rapidly at the temperatures prevalent during summer.
Many types of microbes, particularly bacteria, are responsible for food-borne illnesses. These include Salmonella, Campylobacter, Enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli, Vibrio cholerae, Shigella spp., Staphylococcus aureus, Vibrio parahaemolyticus, Vibrio vulnificus, Yersinia enterocolitica, Clostridium botulinum, Clostridium perfringens, Clostridium difficile and Bacillus cereus, amongst others.
Therefore, some extra precautions need to be taken in order to avoid food poisoning, which can manifest itself in the form of severe stomach aches, profuse diarrhea with vomiting, fever, cramps, and even passing blood in the stool. The young, the old and those with a weakened immune system are particularly susceptible. Even healthy people are not spared. Therefore, it is our duty to not only protect ourselves, but also our family and friends from the ill effects of food spoilage.
•Maintain personal hygiene: Wash your hands before cooking and after handling raw meat, fish and poultry. Thoroughly dry your hands with a clean kitchen towel. Make a habit of wearing an apron in the kitchen. Avoid cooking and touching food items if you have a cold, runny nose or fever. Never smoke in the kitchen.
•Maintain cleanliness: Before handling food, make sure that all cooking surfaces are spotlessly clean. Wash all utensils such as knives, chopping boards etc. with soap and water. Preferably use a separate chopping board for raw meat and poultry.
•Clean your produce: Always wash fruits and vegetables in running tap water. With the growing concern about pesticide residues remaining on the surface of fruits and vegetables, it will be a good idea to soak these produce in luke warm water with some salt and vinegar for two hours, in order to leach out any harmful pesticide residues. Before eating (fruits) or cooking (vegetables) wash again in running tap water to get rid of any last traces of pesticides.
•Maintain correct temperature: This is the most relevant tip for maintaining food safety during the hot summer months. The temperature of the refrigerator must be maintained at 4°C and the freezer at -15°C to -18°C. Store away raw meat and poultry in the freezer compartment. When required, thaw out in the refrigerator compartment itself, but separate from other items of food. Make sure to thaw the meat thoroughly. Marinate the meat in the fridge; use the sauce only for cooking, and not for serving. Never serve cooked meat on the same plate used for marinating. Once served, food should not be kept outside for more than 2 hours. If eating outdoors, use a chiller box with plenty of ice packs. Use separate boxes for food and beverages. Avoid opening the box too often in order to maintain the cool temperature inside. Also, avoid exposure of the chiller box to direct sunlight.
Cooking should be done at the correct temperature and also stored at the right temperature. Keep food very cold or very hot – bacteria causing foodborne illnesses thrive at room temperature. As a rule of thumb, keep hot food hot and cold food cold. A guide to safe temperature for different types of food is given in Table 1.
Table 1: Safe food temperature chart
Fish dishes 63°C
Chicken dishes 74°C
Egg dishes 71°C
Samosa & Bhajis Piping hot
Shrimp, lobster, and crabs Cook until pearly and opaque
Clams, oysters, and mussels Cook until the shells are open
Cool hot foods, covered, outside for not more than half an hour before storing in the fridge. Reheat leftovers until steaming hot throughout, but don’t reheat them again. If barbecuing outside, make sure to pre-cook chicken, meat patties and sausages. Make sure all meat gets cooked thoroughly until the juices run clear and there is no pink flesh left. Place cooked items on a clean plate – not one already used for raw meat.
•Safety tips for outdoor picnics: Food safety begins with proper hand cleaning — including outdoor settings. Before you begin setting out your picnic feast, make sure hands and surfaces are clean. If you don’t have access to running water, simply use a water jug, some soap, and paper towels; or consider using disposable “wet wipes” for cleaning your hands. Take care to keep all utensils and platters clean when preparing food; disposable plates are likely to be a better option for serving cooked food.
Following these simple tips will ensure that you, your family and friends can enjoy the sun, fun and food at picnics and barbeques in a safe and enjoyable manner this summer. Happy holidays!
Article is written by Dr. Saurabh Arora,foodsafetyhelpline.com