Christmas is fast approaching and the usual feeling of merrymaking is gradually gathering momentum. Some people have prepared their shopping lists covering a wide array of items, and certainly, food and drinks will feature as top priorities.
The Yuletide is characterized by a number of social gatherings which come with lots of eating and drinking. Some of the food may be homemade (i.e. prepared by members of a household for their own use or for visiting friends and relatives), or provided by a contracted caterer or simply one served in eateries (Restaurants, Food Joints etc.).
Irrespective of the source of the food, the most important issue of health concern to the consumer should be the safety of what is eaten. Food safety should be of paramount interest to all; food handlers and patrons alike.
Food safety is best assured if all stages along the supply route till final consumption are carefully guarded to prevent potential contaminants, from getting into the food. These contaminants could be physical, chemical or biological in nature.
The safety of the food places huge responsibilities on all players along the food supply route; farmers, transporters of food, distributors, retailers and caterers. The food regulator also plays a key role in ensuring that adequate measures are in place and are monitored to promote food safety.
For ease of application of the thoughts shared here, this article focuses on what the food handler must do to promote food safety. We wish to dwell on the principles of the Five Keys to Safer Food as propounded by the World Health Organization (WHO) to elucidate these thoughts.
Keys to Safer food – No. 1 – Keep Clean
• Wash your hands before handling food and often during food preparation
• Wash your hands after visiting the toilet
• Wash and sanitize all surfaces and equipment used for food preparation
• Protect kitchen areas and food from pests and other animals
Keys to Safer food – No. 2 – Separate Raw and Uncooked Food
• Separate raw meat, poultry and seafood from other foods
• Use separate equipment and utensils such as knives and cutting boards for handling raw foods
• Store food in containers to avoid contact between raw and prepared foods
Keys to Safer food – No. 3 – Cook food thoroughly
• Cook food thoroughly, especially meat, poultry, eggs and seafood
• Bring foods like soups and stews to boiling to make sure they have reached over 700C. For foods such as meat and poultry, make sure that their juices are clear and not pinkish.
• Reheat cooked/leftover food thoroughly before eating
Keys to Safer food – No. 4 – Keep food at safe temperatures
• Do not leave cooked food at room temperature for more than 2 hours (Room temperature, which is 250C is within the temperature danger zone and ideal for microorganisms to grow)
• Keep hot foods hot (e.g. boiled rice, porridge etc. above 600C) and cold foods cold (e.g. salads below 50C)
• Refrigerate promptly all cooked and perishable food (preferably below 50C)
• Do not store food too long even in the refrigerator
• Do not thaw frozen food at room temperature
KEY No. 5 – Use Safe water and Raw Ingredients
• Always use safe (potable) water for cooking. Boil it if necessary to make it safe
• Use only potable water in making ice
• Select fresh and wholesome fruits and vegetables for your cooking
• Use pasteurized milk. It is safer than unpasteurized milk.
• Wash fruits and vegetables properly using potable water. Sanitize them to make them safer. Remember these may be eaten raw, uncooked.
Authors: Kofi Essel, Mrs Wilhelmina Quarcoopome and Miss Dzigbodi Bakar
(Food Industrial Support Services Department (FDA-Ghana)