60% of food poisoning occurs in the home, mostly during the warmer months
Most bacteria proliferate better when it is hot: between 30 and 37 ºC they find the optimum temperature to reproduce and, in addition, they do so at high speed. That is why in summer food poisoning increases by 25% compared to the rest of the year. On average, at least 2 out of 10 people suffer an annual episode of vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and sometimes fever, and six out of ten of them occur at home. Although most of the time it is mild, there are also serious cases that require hospitalization and even deaths, especially among the most vulnerable groups: children under 5 years of age and adults over 65. Other people at risk are pregnant women and those who have a weakened immune system, either because of illness or because of taking certain types of medication.
The most frequent intoxications are those produced by bacteria, but there are also viruses and parasites that can cause them when food is altered during its cultivation, transformation, distribution, storage, etc. The most dangerous products are fruits and vegetables, meats, fish and seafood, eggs, mayonnaise and dairy products.
There are some basic principles for safe cooking, handling and preserving food at home. These are the four star measures to prevent food poisoning:
Before handling food or preparing any food in the kitchen, the first thing to do is to wash your hands thoroughly. Then, clean the worktop where we are going to cook, the cutting boards, the knives and the utensils we need. However, do not wash meat or chicken. If you want to wash a dirty egg before cracking it, it should be eaten immediately. Be careful with the kitchen towel: it is necessary to change it often and preferably to use disposable kitchen paper when we are cooking raw food; also the cloths can be vehicles of transmission of virus and bacteria.
Cross-contamination occurs when the same knife or cutting board is used for meat or fish and foods that are eaten uncooked, such as salad ingredients, for example. Another possibility of cross-contamination is to put the omelet on the same plate where we have beaten the egg without having washed it before or the fried steak where it was previously raw. In the refrigerator or freezer and in the shopping cart it is important that meats, poultry, eggs, fish and seafood are placed separately, without touching vegetables, fruits and other foods. Everything should be stored in containers, sealed bags or containers with lids that prevent the possibility of liquid spillage.
Foods that are consumed cooked should be subjected to a sufficient temperature, that is to say, to more than 75 ºC for at least two minutes. Foods made with raw eggs, such as mayonnaise and other sauces, should be consumed immediately and, if there is any left over, stored immediately in the refrigerator. If we reuse leftovers already cooked, they should be heated for two minutes at 70 ºC (check that the microwave reaches that temperature), stir to ensure uniform heating and reheat only the portion to be consumed. If we cook, but we are not going to eat at the moment, it is preferable to keep the food heating in the meantime than to let it cool and reheat it again.
It is necessary to pay attention to the temperature of the refrigerator, which must be at 4 or 5 ºC at the most. Foods that require refrigeration should be put in the refrigerator within two hours of purchase, but, if it is summer, it is best not to wait more than an hour. This means that, when we do the shopping, we should leave for the end the products that need cold and return home as soon as possible to put them in the refrigerator. And the same when cooking: do not wait more than the right time for the cooked food to cool down and put it in the fridge or freezer as soon as possible. Fish to be eaten raw should be kept previously frozen for 5 days at -20º. It is preferable to keep eggs in their original packaging and not in the door, but in the central area of the refrigerator.
Other useful tips
In addition to complying with the washing, separation, cooking and refrigeration recommendations, there are other important rules:
– Do not taste the raw dough of biscuits or pizzas (watch out for children) because both raw flours and raw eggs can contain harmful bacteria.
– Defrost in the refrigerator in good time or, if in a hurry, under cold running water or in the microwave, not at room temperature, as bacteria multiply very quickly.
– Do not marinate or desalinate food on the counter, but inside the refrigerator and in covered containers.
– Do not eat undercooked meat, especially chicken and pork, and cook tortillas well cooked.
– Always wash fruits and vegetables, even if they are going to be peeled.
– In places where there are no guarantees, drink bottled water and any drink without ice cubes.
– Do not rely only on the appearance or smell to determine the good condition of a food, you have to look at the expiration dates, and do not try suspicious products: a small amount can make you sick.
– Do not take advantage of the healthy parts of moldy foods. Some types of molds are not harmful, but others are and, although it is not appreciated in some parts, it can be already extended to all.
– Do not store cooked leftovers for more than 4 days, and always store them in the refrigerator.
– The expiration date should be respected and it should be taken into account that, once the containers have been opened, they should be consumed within 3 or 4 days.
– Put the date on homemade foods when freezing them, always in clean and closed containers.
– Keep a special eye on the most risky products for vulnerable people: fresh cheeses, unpasteurized juices, undercooked animal products…
– Do not eat all of them from the same container, serve each one on his plate with cutlery used only for serving.
– Discard bulging or damaged cans.
– Clean out the refrigerator regularly and immediately pick up blood and liquid spills from raw food.
– If going on an outing or taking food to the beach, containers should be tightly sealed, with sufficient ice cubes or ice tablets to keep it cold.
– Keep food away from pets, which can carry pathogens and parasites.
– Make sure that in restaurants, bars, cafés, bakeries, etc., food is protected by display cabinets and refrigerated when required.
In summer we must be very careful with food, since most food poisoning occurs because we have not been as careful as we should in our own home. Special attention should be paid to the elderly, who may have more problems to detect food in bad condition because their sense of smell and sight also age with the passage of time.