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Food safety is a global concern: 10 Food Safety Tips

Food safety is a global concern, as it is directly linked to nutrition and food security. Food safety consists of the selection, handling, preparation and storage of food in a manner that prevents or reduces the risk individuals becoming ill from food-borne illnesses through contamination. Contamination of food is the introduction of harmful substances into your food which may be of chemical, physical or biological properties. This cross-contamination happens when harmful substances are transferred from one surface to another. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 600 million — almost 1 in 10 people in the world — fall ill after eating contaminated food and 420 000 die every year. Contaminants may be introduced into your food at any point through the production process — farm to fork. So whether you own or work at a food establishment or you're just preparing a nutritious meal at home, there are basic things you need to be aware of that promote safe food consumption. Labelling Do you read your labels? I mean really read your labels. Before purchasing food products, whether as raw material to be placed into another product for manufacturing or for direct consumption, you need to be fully aware of the nutritional values and ingredients of the product. Countries may have different requirements on information required on food labels. However, consumers need to carefully observe labels for: list of ingredients, best before date, and health claims/warnings such as the presence of allergens, name and address of manufacturer, country of origin, lot/batch number, special storage and cooking instructions if any. Cleaning Cross-contamination is the transfer of harmful substances from one surface to another, but can be prevented with proper cleaning and sanitation practices. This is one of the first and most important principles of food safety. Now don't be mistaken, cleaning removes food, soil, minerals or other deposits from food or food contact surfaces but does not make your food or food contact surface devoid of harmful pathogenic microorganisms that may result in contamination. One will need to ensure that after cleaning — with the correct techniques and proper cleaning agents — a recommended sanitiser is used to reduce harmful pathogenic microorganisms that may be present on the food or food contact surface to an acceptable level. Ensure that you clean and sanitise all surfaces, utensils, cloths and equipment that come into contact with food and food contact surfaces and don't forget those hands! Use safe water Clean potable water is not just important for drinking. Contamination of food and food contact surfaces may arise from the quality of water we use to prepare our food. If you're ever in doubt about the quality of your water, always boil before using for food preparation as bacteria and chemicals can be transferred through water during cleaning and food preparation. Storage and separation Whether you have just bought raw bulk materials for ingredients to your food products or you just got in from the grocery store, food must be separated and stored in a manner that prevents cross-contamination. Ensure that you take note of labelling requirements for storage and store accordingly. Never store your food in areas prone to access by pests or in areas where chemicals are stored. Cooked foods must be consumed immediately; however, if you have no choice but to prepare food in advance it is recommended that you store near or below 10oC. First in, first out Ensure you have a proper rotation of food stock in storage according to when they were purchased and expiry dates. This ensures that stocked items, whether in the refrigerator or dry storage, will be used before stated expiry dates. Ensure that all food that has past the expiration date is thrown out. Pest control Animals can transmit pathogenic micro-organisms that may cause food borne illnesses. It is therefore extremely important that measures are taken to protect foods and food contact surfaces from rodents, insects and other animals. Larger food establishments may design a rigid pest control programme that may prevent the entry and elimination of pests from their facilities, while homeowners can take simple steps such as ensuring waste bins are always covered, emptied and clean along with installing screens that prevent entry. Separate raw from processed Always separate raw and cooked food as safely cooked food can be contaminated with pathogens from raw foods that don't need to be cooked, such as fruits and vegetables. Separation must take place at the factory when processing, the grocery store when filling that trolley, in the refrigerator and when preparing/processing food. We all know some of us are guilty of placing cooked food back on that same plate or cutting board that we used to chop up or mix that meat/chicken without washing. Utensils used to cut raw foods must not be used on cooked foods without washing. Temperature control in foods Foods must be prepared as per labelling requirements; raw foods such as poultry meats, eggs may be contaminated with disease causing micro organisms and must be cooked thoroughly. However, to effectively kill pathogens all parts of the food must reach at least 70 oC. Frozen foods must maintain a maximum internal temperature of - 17 oC or less with refrigerated food at 5 oC or less. Dry storage items should be stored between 10-21 oC. Ensure that frozen meats are thawed (in the refrigerator) before cooking and reheat cooked foods thoroughly to protect against microbes that may have been introduced during storage (storage slows down growth; it does not kill the organism). Personal hygiene One must maintain a high level of personal hygiene when preparing or handling food, whether you are on farm reaping, in factory processing or at home making dinner for the family. This simply means washing hands after every break, when switching from raw foods such as fish and meat to other foods, after a bathroom break and after playing with pets. This also includes ensuring that you are free from communicable diseases while handling food, keeping hair and nails well-groomed and covered and wearing protective garments if required. Preventative measures If you are wondering how to prevent contamination of food at work or home, there are simple measures that can be taken to reduce or eliminate occurrences. Educating yourself and those around you on the importance of food safety, mounting signage in different areas of your home or establishment that may guide individuals can be very simple but effective solutions in preventing food-borne illnesses. There are local agencies that can provide you with a vast amount of information on food safety at all stages. It's important that you know these agencies and the assistance they are able to provide you with. These include but are not limited to Bureau of Standards Jamaica, the Ministry of Health, Food Storage Prevention of Infestation Division, Rural Agricultural Development Authority and the Ministry of Industry Commerce Agriculture and Fisheries. All play a role in promoting food safety in our country. We all have a role to play in ensuring safe food is consumed. Know your role and let's work towards providing safe and nutritious food for our population. Marshalee Valentine, BTech, MSc Quality & Food Safety Management Systems Consultant Source: The Observer