Home food or ‘ghar ka khana’ always holds a special place in people’s hearts, especially with hectic lifestyles of today. It is true that, in general, food prepared at home is healthier than outside food. But for home cooked food to be truly safe, it is necessary to follow certain basic guidelines with respect to storage and handling of food that need to be followed.
Here are some common myths that too many believe, especially when it comes to home kitchens.
Myth 1: “Food when refrigerated, is protected from cross-contamination and the temperature is too cold for germs to survive.”
• There are categories of bacteria that survive and even breed in cool and moist physical environments like the refrigerator.
• Fresh stocks of vegetables and fruits must be stored separately from raw meat, poultry items, seafood and eggs.
• Clean refrigerator to prevent the risk of cross-contamination.
Myth 2: “I am a vegetarian, so I don’t need to worry about food poisoning.”
• Fruits and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet, but like other categories of foods, they too may carry risks of foodborne illnesses. So, don’t underestimate the importance of washing fruits and vegetables, along with skins, preferably under running tap water.
Myth 3: “Leftovers are safe until they smell bad.”
• Smell is not the sole indicator of whether food is safe to eat or not. There are bacteria that cause foodborne infections but do not affect taste, smell or appearance of food!
• Leftover foods need to be stored within an hour of cooking at below 5 degrees Celsius strictly. Before eating, food should be heated at above 80 degrees Celsius.
• GOLDEN RULE of food safety “When in doubt, throw it out” is applicable.
Myth 4: “Freezing food kills harmful bacteria that can cause food poisoning.”
• Much to the contrary, bacteria can survive the most freezing temperatures! So, freezing is not a scientific method for making food safe enough to eat.
• After food has been thawed, there is a chance that bacteria might be present, and may begin to multiply too, as usual. Cooking food to the right internal temperature is recommended to kill harmful bacteria. Keep handy a thermometer to measure the temperature of cooked foods.
Myth 5: “If I microwave food, the microwaves kill the bacteria, so the food is absolutely safe!”
• Microwaves themselves don’t kill bacteria. The heat generated by them kills the bacteria in foods.
• Microwave ovens do provide us with some advantages, but there is a possibility that foods may be cooked unevenly, if they are shaped irregularly or vary in thickness, among other factors. Techniques such as rotating and stirring the food during the cooking process, may help in some cases.
• Checking the temperature of microwaved foods with a food thermometer in and across several spots ensures total heating.
Some general guidelines for storage and handling of food:
• Wash fruits and vegetables – This may seem like a no-brainer, but it is something that is often not followed as diligently as it should be. Especially if you are using raw fruits and vegetables for salad or juice-making purposes, make sure you clean them thoroughly and discard any bruised or spoilt parts.
• Eat food as soon as it is cooked – Delay in consuming cooked food poses risks such as contamination, bacteria formation, loss of nutrients etc. The more the delay, the greater the risks. Ideally, consume food within four hours of preparation.
• Understand optimal cooking temperature – Different varieties of food require different temperature levels for cooking well. Use the right temperature to ensure food is completely and uniformly cooked.
• Storage – While storing food, raw ingredients must be segregated from cooked food. This prevents contamination. Containers should also be well-chosen, depending on the nature and varieties of food to be protected, and must be closed at all given times.
• Follow package instructions – For processed food follow storage and cooking instructions mentioned on the package, pay attention to expiry date. Also, from a nutritional perspective, it is best to limit heavily processed food.
• Hygiene – Hands must be washed regularly – both before and after serving food.The premises used for cooking should be meticulously cleaned and maintained, including the kitchen and storage area. Scraps of food crumbs and waste materials must be cleaned and disposed off aptly after cooking. Check the quality of water.
At Doorstep Health Services, the emphasis is on overall wellness as much as it is on curing illness. Write in to us at firstname.lastname@example.org for any questions or queries.