The first ever World Food Safety Day was celebrated on June 7, 2019. The purpose of marking this international day was to draw attention to food safety issues and prevention of food-borne illnesses. It was meant to bring the food safety professional community, the industry, the government and consumers all together as a reminder on the importance of food safety.
As a food safety professional, my thoughts on world food safety day are quite strong, emotional and comes from a good place in me. This is because I am not sure if the concept of food safety is as well understood by consumers. Clearly there is an entire professional community, industry and section of the government working to ensure that the food that reaches consumers is safe. But, consumers’ understanding of food safety remains a challenge. And that is a problem, because food safety is everyone’s business.
I say this from personal experience. Very often, when I explain little things to my family and friends that could make food preparation or consumption unsafe, I get brushed off as paranoid. This is a personal challenge for me as a food safety professional because I can do my daily job to contribute to the safety of the food supply chain, but if I can’t protect my family and friends, it is a problem.
Educating people about food safety is something I take very seriously, no matter how many times I get brushed off. Yes, science may not be of interest of everyone, but there are lot of things that only science can explain. Food-borne illness is one of them. Every time you get a stomach infection and you wonder why, it is because of a food item that was prepared or consumed in an unsafe manner. And that can be explained by the growth of micro-organisms in the food that made you sick.
So, today, on world food safety day, I would like to share to share some of the practices that I follow everyday and strongly encourage everyone to follow. Knowledge is prevention and prevention is better than reaction.
- When shopping, use separate bags for fruits and vegetables, especially meat/poultry. This will help avoid cross-contamination in the cart, during checkout and even during storage in your refrigerator
- Have a cooler with ice packs in your car, especially for hot days. This will ensure that fruits, vegetables and meat/poultry will be stored at safe temperatures on your way home from the grocery store
- If purchasing pre-cut fruits, vegetables, salads etc. make sure they are placed in the refrigerated isle and/or on ice
- Clean (and dry) chopping boards and knives after each use. Disinfect chopping boards at least once a week
- Disinfection tips:
- To disinfect wooden chopping boards, sprinkle a generous amount of Kosher Salt on the board. Take half a lemon, squeeze the juice, and use the rind of the lemon to rub the board with the salt and lemon juice mixture. Rinse and dry. This will leave your chopping board smelling fresh
- While both the above ingredients have anti-microbial properties, they may not be strong enough. An unscented bleach (about 1 tbsp) can also be used to disinfect the wooden chopping board (after washing it with soap and hot water)
- Vinegar is another well-known household disinfectant that is natural and effective at disinfecting surfaces
- Disinfection tips:
- Wash, wash, wash your hands with soap and water before beginning meal prep. This is the most obvious and easiest step, yet the most forgotten or taken lightly. Also remember to wash your hands after handling raw meat/poultry before handling any fruits, vegetables or cooked food
- Clean fruits and vegetables under running water prior to use. DO NOT use bleach or soap to clean the fruits and vegetables. Soap and bleach are not intended for ingestion
- Cleaning tip:
- To wash leafy greens, separate the leafs from the stems and place the leafs in a pot of cold water for 5 minutes. This will allow dirt and particles to settle to the bottom of the pot
- Discard the water and re-rinse the leafs under running water for 1-2 minutes to allow any stuck on dirt to wash off. For leaves with crevices, scrub the surface of the leaves to remove any hidden dirt
- Cleaning tip:
- Store fruits, vegetables and raw/meat and poultry separately
- Store raw meat/poultry in a bag/wrap on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator
- Store cooked food away from raw products
- For safe storage, the temperature of the refrigerator should be at or below 40F (Refrigeration slows bacterial growth)
- Cook meat and poultry thoroughly. Use a temperature gauge to ensure the food has reached a safe internal temperature
- A safe internal temperature is the temperature at which harmful bacteria will be inactivated so that they cannot grow or multiply. A useful chart on safe internal temperatures published by the United States government can be found here
- Marinades or sauces that are used on raw meat/poultry should not be used on cooked food
- For summertime grilling, when picking up grilled meat off the barbecue, don’t place it on the same plate that held the raw meat (unless it has been washed)
- When preparing to bake a cookie or a cake, do not taste the raw dough or batter. While it may be tempting to do so, there may be bacteria lurking in the raw eggs or flour in the dough and batter that can you sick
If you are wondering why it is important to follow the above practices, it is because you cannot see, taste or smell bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses. Furthermore, foodborne illnesses can also occur due to the development of toxins from mold and bacteria in foods, which is also not easy to detect.
As a food safety professional, I can tell you that there are several people who work day and night to ensure that the food that reaches consumers is safe. But, it is also the consumer’s responsibility to learn to recognize hazards and follow appropriate measures to mitigate the risk of foodborne illnesses. I encourage you to be mindful of food safety. I urge you to educate your little ones about the steps necessary to eat safe and healthy food and I request you to pass on the message to your family and friends. Let’s build a food safety culture together.
If you have questions or comments on any topic related to food safety, do share them below.