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Preventive Health

FOOD SAFETY - a patient's guide


Food safety can help to prevent many cases of food poisoning. This article looks at correct food handling, storage and cooking methods.

food safety


  • Food safety is crucial to avoiding food poisoning
  • Safe cooking means handling, storing and cooking all food properly
  • Buy food from reputable suppliers only
  • Food should be cooked until it is piping hot
  • Take special care when cooking chicken and seafood
  • Be careful when preparing different foods to prevent cross contamination of raw meat with salad

What is food safety?

Food safety means handling, storing and cooking food properly to prevent food being contaminated with toxins and bacteria.

Food can be contaminated with several different types of organisms, leading to food poisoning which can be serious for young children, the elderly and those with weak immune systems.

The US National Food Safety Initiative attributes 9000 deaths a year to foodborne illness.

The most common types of food poisoning is due to food contaminated with campylobacter and salmonella but most cases can be prevented by careful food handling procedures.

About 50 percent of all food poisoning happens in people's own homes. So people can limit their own risk by following simple safety tips in the kitchen.

And always remember the golden rule - if in doubt throw it out.

Safe food handling:

  • Buy food from reputable supermarkets, grocers, butchers and vegetable stores.
  • At the supermarket buy perishable food such as meat, eggs and milk last.
  • Take groceries home straight away so they do not end up sitting in a hot car.
  • Wash your hands and clean kitchen surfaces before preparing food.
  • Clean knives and cutting boards after cutting meat, chicken and seafood before using them on salads and vegetables. Or use separate boards and utensils.
  • Wash fruit and raw vegetables before eating them.
  • Thaw foods before cooking unless the package directs you to cook while frozen.
  • Keep pets away from food because they can carry bacteria.
  • Always use clean dishcloths. Boil the dishcloth once a day to be safe.
  • Do not put cooked food on an unclean plate which contained raw meat.

Safe food storage:

  • Store perishable food including eggs in the fridge and make sure it is set at 0 to 5 degrees C
  • The freezer should be set at below -18 degrees C.
  • Regularly clean the fridge and freezer.
  • Keep cooked foods at the top of the fridge and raw meat at the bottom.
  • Do not leave perishable food at room temperature for more than two hours.
  • Avoid cross contamination by preventing juices from chicken, meat or seafood to drip onto other food.
  • Use containers to prevent cross contamination.
  • Defrost meat in the microwave or a fridge. Do not leave it sitting on the bench.
  • Put any warm leftovers in the fridge to cool promptly.
  • Never refreeze anything that has already been thawed.
  • Remove the stuffing before refrigerating roast chicken or turkey.

Cooking temperatures:

  • Cook eggs until the yolk is firm.
  • Do not eat raw or undercooked, runny eggs.
  • Avoid eating foods that contain raw eggs such as eggnog or Caesar salad dressing.
  • Cook chicken and turkey until it is white in the middle and has a temperature of 80 degrees C.
  • Never eat rare or pink poultry.
  • Minced meat should be cooked to 70 degrees C. There should be no trace of pink in hamburger patties.
  • Cook roasts and steaks to 60 degrees C.
  • Use a meat thermometer to measure the correct temperature.
  • Cook fish until it is white and flaky.
  • Heat leftovers to 75 degrees C and sauces should be boiled while reheating.

Microwave cooking:

  • Remove food from packaging while defrosting or heating. Plastic cling-film may not be safe and cause harmful chemicals to leak into foods. Microwave-safe cling film is available.
  • Use only microwave-safe containers. Other containers could melt and cause chemicals to contaminate food.
  • Cook any meat or fish straight away after defrosting in the microwave. Some parts may have begun to cook which are ripe breeding grounds for bacteria.
  • Cook all foods in the microwave till it is piping hot.
  • Do not cook large pieces of meat on high power, use 50 percent power and cook for longer to ensure it is cooked right through.
  • Cover foods with microwave-safe cling film to help ensure even heating. But don't allow the plastic to touch the food.
  • Stir food once or twice while cooking to avoid cold spots where bacteria can thrive. If your microwave does not have a turntable, turn the dish manually at least once during cooking.
  • If you plan to use the grill after microwaving, do so immediately otherwise bacteria may have time to multiply. Do not store partially cooked food to be used later.
  • Use a food thermometer to check that food is cooked thoroughly.
  • Stand food for at least two minutes after microwaving before serving.

Common foods linked to food poisoning:

  • Eggs - Raw and undercooked eggs can carry salmonella which can cause diarrhoea and vomiting, and is dangerous for infants, the elderly and those with weak immune systems.
  • Chicken and turkey - Campylobacter and salmonella infects a high proportion of chicken and turkey. Thorough cooking will eliminate the risk of food poisoning.
  • Shellfish - Buy shellfish from safe retail outlets and discard any shells which don't open after boiling. Throw away ready-to-eat mussels and seafood following their use-by dates.
  • Unpasteurised milk - This can be risky for vulnerable groups of patients and should be avoided.
  • Soft cheese - This carries the risk of listeria even if it has been pasteurised. Soft cheeses should be avoided by pregnant women, the elderly and those with weak immune systems.

See also:

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