FOOD HYGIENE: THE ESSENTIALS
Why food hygiene is important?
Good food hygiene is essential to ensure that the food you and your family eats is safe. Poor hygiene procedures in your home can put you at risk. Harmful germs cause food poisoning can spread very easily, so you need to make sure that you do everything you can to prevent this. Food poisoning can lead to serious illness, even death, especially among the very young, the very old and ill people, who are particularly at risk from food poisoning.
Keeping food safe
There are four main defense against the growth and spread of germs:
ensuring food areas are clean and good standards of personal hygiene are maintained
cooking foods thoroughly
keeping food at the right temperature
Cross-contamination is the transfer of bacteria from foods (usually raw) to other foods. The bacteria can be transferred directly when one food touches (or drips onto) another, or indirectly, for example from hands, equipment, work surfaces, or knives and other utensils. Cross-contamination is one of the major causes of food poisoning.
Food can be contaminated very easily when it is handled. Therefore it is essential that you maintain good standards of personal hygiene at all times to ensure that food does not get contaminated with harmful germs, dirt or ‘foreign bodies’.
You should wash and dry your hands regularly when handling food, in particular:
- before preparing food
- before handling ready-to-eat food
- after touching raw food, especially raw meat or poultry
- after going to the toilet.
If you have symptoms of food poisoning, such as diarrhoea, vomiting or stomach pains, you must not handle food, because you could easily contaminate it and make others ill.
You must store food correctly to keep it safe. In particular, make sure you:
- observe temperature control (fridges 5ºC, freezer –18ºC)
- keep raw food, especially meat, away from ready-to-eat food
- store raw meat in sealable containers at the bottom of the fridge, so it can’t touch or drip onto ready-to-eat food
- don’t overload fridges because this will hinder the circulation of cool air and might mean the food is not kept cold enough
Food that you store should be labelled with a ‘Use by’ or ‘Best before’ date, and details of how they need to be stored (for example if they need chilling)
- Never use food after the ‘Use by’ date, since it might not be safe to eat.
- Always use the first in first out rule. use items that you bought first.
- Check food with a short shelf-life every day to make sure it is still within the ‘Use by’ date.
- Follow any storage instructions on the product label or packaging.
Food can become contaminated very easily during preparation. You should:
- observe good personal hygiene
- use different chopping boards/work surfaces for raw food and ready-to-eat food
- use different equipment and utensils for raw and ready-to-eat food, wherever possible
- clean equipment and surfaces thoroughly before and after use
- avoid unnecessary handling of food – use clean tongs, plates or trays instead
- keep chilled food out of the fridge for the shortest time possible during preparation
Remember, it is very important to wash fresh fruit, vegetables and salad vegetables, such as lettuce, if they are being served raw
Proper cooking kills food poisoning bacteria. It is important to cook food thoroughly, especially meat. When you cook poultry, pork, minced/chopped meat (for example burgers and sausages) and rolled joints, you should make sure that the center of the meat is thoroughly cooked, no pink bits and the juices run clear.
The only occasion when you do not need to follow the minimum cooking times is when you are cooking whole cuts or joints of meat traditionally served pink or rare, such as beef or lamb. If the meat is pierced (for example with skewers) or on the bone, you should follow the minimum cooking times.
When reheating food, especially meat, make sure it is piping hot all the way through and do not reheat it more than once.
Food should be cooled as quickly as possible after cooking (unless it is kept hot until serving). You can speed up the cooling process by dividing food into smaller amounts and placing it in shallow dishes. Do not put foods in the fridge when they are still hot, because this could warm up other foods.
You must make sure that your kitchen and all equipment and surfaces that come into contact with food are kept clean and sanitized. While you are working, it is a good idea to clean as you go, mopping up any spills as they happen and cleaning work surfaces, equipment and floors frequently so that waste and dirt do not build up. Remember to keep cleaning equipment, such as mops and cloths, clean.
Careful storage of waste is important to avoid attracting pests, such as flies and rats. You should:
- not allow food or other waste to build up in the kitchen
- keep the storage area clean
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