Contamination can occur at any stage and it’s best to be especially aware of one critical stage when this usually occurs - your own kitchen!
Do you often forget to defrost your meat for dinner and hastily stick them in hot water as a fast solution? How about that time when you woke up hungover and grabbed last night’s leftover pizza from the table? Or that day when you made soft-boiled eggs without checking if the shells were already cracked? You just might be paving your way to food poisoning.
There aren’t always the typical tell-tale signs for bad food. Not all of it looks mouldy and smells weird. For all you know, that juicy piece of steak you’re about to dig into could contain all the nasty bacteria (E.coli, salmonella etc) that’s going to make you awfully sick.
Within Malaysia, food poisoning numbers have dropped significantly since 1999. However, the Malaysian Department of Statistics are still concerned with the rates of incidences here – especially in Kelantan, Terengganu and Kuala Lumpur with respective incidence rates (the risk of contracting food poisoning) of 85.1, 83.4 and 75.1 per 100,000 population.
Food gets contaminated in the many stages it goes through (production, processing, transporting etc) before reaching your kitchen, and that’s out of your control. However, that doesn’t mean you can play the helpless victim. There are things you can do to stop the bad guys in their tracks. Stay safe by following the food safety action plan below:
The 2-Hour Rule for Food
Harmful bacteria multiply like crazy in the danger zone (between 4°C and 60°C) . The longer you keep your food in this danger zone, the higher your chances of enjoying time in the toilet. This is why food experts advise that perishable foods be left out at room temperature for a maximum of two hours only. Time out should be adjusted to one hour if it’s above 32°C (like when you’re driving home with groceries in the boot).
- Make sure your eggs aren’t cracked – that’s a giveaway sign of salmonella and other bacteria, so don’t be shy about opening the carton to check.
- Stay away from the ugly cans – a swollen, dented, leaking or rusty can could mean contamination.
- Always check the expiry dates – you’d be surprised how much expired food the supermarket sells.
- Inspect your packagings – torn packages should be avoided in case of contaminants.
- Pick your frozen foods from the bottom of the freezer instead of the top as the ones on the top could be thawed and refrozen already.
- When buying shellfish (lala, mussels, cockles etc), make sure their shells are closed. They’re no good otherwise.
- Stick all your perishables into the refrigerator within 2 hours from purchase.
- Poultry, fish, and ground meat can stay in the fridge for up to 2 days (cook or freeze after).
- Other meats (sliced beef, pork, lamb etc) can stay in the fridge for 3-5 days (cook or freeze after).
- All meats should be placed in plastic bags or containers to prevent juices from contaminating other foods in the fridge.
- Wash all your eggs and place them in the fridge. You never know what bacteria the shells could be transporting into your home.
- Do not stuff your fridge to the brim. This affects the circulation of cool air which keeps the food safe to eat.
- Don’t thaw your meats at room temperature. Remember the 2-hour rule.
- Don’t thaw your meats in hot water to speed up the process. That’s just making your food a bacteria farm.
- There are three ways to thaw your food safely – in the fridge, in the microwave, or in cold water:
- Refrigerator thawing: this is perhaps the most time consuming as some foods take a day or longer to day. Plan ahead. This method of thawing allows you to refreeze if you’d like.
- Cold water thawing: This takes some effort as you’ll need to constantly change the water, ensuring it’s cold. Upside is that it takes less time than the fridge. Place food in leak-proof bags and submerge in cold water. You’ll need to cook the food after and should not be refrozen.
- Microwave thawing: Almost zero effort and takes no time at all. You’ll need to cook the food immediately after as some parts may have warmed during the thawing process.
- Don’t cross-contaminate. Use one chopping board for fruits and veggies, and another for raw meat and fish.
- Always wash your hands before and after handling raw food.
- Clean your knives after using it on raw meats
- Marinate your meats in the refrigerator.
- There are about 200% more faecal bacteria on your kitchen chopping boards than on the average toilet seat. Shocking, we know. So start sanitizing your cutting boards regularly. There are many ways to do it, Google or try it with bleach. Do that with your kitchen sinks as well.
- Replace dishwashing sponges and scrubs regularly and make sure to keep your dish cloths squeaky clean.
- When cooking meat, cut into the middle to check that it’s no longer pink / red, and juices that come out are clear.
- Always ensure food is piping hot (bubbling if it’s soup) before taking it off the heat.
- If you’re not good at judging whether your meats are done, invest in a cooking thermometer and check it according to this food temperature chart. All the celebrity chefs use them to not overcook food as well.
- Don’t leave leftovers out for more than 2 hours – stick it in the fridge or freezer.
- Most cooked food can stay for 3-4 days in the fridge. Dump / freeze them after that time frame.
- Transfer leftover canned food into food containers. Do not leave the contents in the can as the metal, tin, and iron can dissolve from the can walls onto the food. High concentrations of this can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, and other stuff you don’t want to be associated with.