Food safety: What you should know

Experts warn against conserving fruits or vegetables with damages. Net photo

To avoid food from getting contaminated, it needs to be stored using the right preservative methods. Nutritionists advise on the best ways to do so.

Dieudonne Bukaba, a nutrition expert at Avega Clinic Remera, says that one way to do this is by acidifying food as it lasts longer if dipped in vinegar. Some of the foods that last long in vinegar include cucumbers, carrots, green beans, and peppers.

He says that food should be stored in a cool and dry room with ventilation.

According to World Health Organisation (WHO), food safety is everybody’s concern, and it is difficult to find someone who has not experienced a foodborne illness at least once. Foodborne illnesses may result from the consumption of food contaminated by microbial pathogens, toxic chemicals or radioactive materials.

Also, food safety starts with production; at the farm level where the misuse of agro-chemicals, including pesticides, growth hormones and veterinary drugs may have harmful effects on human health. The microbial and chemical risks could be introduced at the farm-level, for example, using water contaminated by industrial waste or poultry farm waste for irrigation of crops, therefore, good agricultural practices should be applied to reduce microbial and chemical hazards.

Bukaba says, “Canning is a great way to preserve many fresh foods. However, you ought to do the canning appropriately because improperly canned foods can make you sick. Water-bath canning is the simplest canning method as it helps to preserve acidic foods like tomatoes, but for non-acidic foods, you will need to rely on the more complex system of pressure canning.”

Rene Tabaro, a senior nutritionist and dietician at King Faisal Hospital in Kigali, says food should be preserved from the production stage till the time it is eaten to avoid microbes from contaminating it. Do not put food on the floor, rather, lay it on something because there are germs on the floor.

Bukaba notes that fruits like lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruits can be preserved in a fruit basket, but you ought to wash them and vegetables properly before preserving them. Boil all home canned foods for 10 to 15 minutes before eating them. While you are boiling the food, look out for mould, foam or a bad odour.

“You can put salt as it preserves anything from meat, poultry, and fish, to desserts and vegetables because it removes moisture and reduces the amount of water available for bacteria to breed. Any salt can preserve meat, however celtic sea salt, or maldon sea salt are the best choices because they are unrefined,” he says.

Tabaro says that refrigeration also keeps food for long; you have to know which temperature to freeze a certain type of food. Keep high-risk food (ready to eat food, raw and cooked meat, poultry like chicken and turkey, dairy products like eggs and egg products, and sea food salad) at five degrees Celsius or below, or above 25 degrees Celsius to avoid the temperature danger zone. Store raw foods below cooked foods. However, as you freeze food, store it in suitable, covered containers.

He warns against consuming foods like meat, fish, chicken, and milk if you don’t know how they were preserved or period of preparation. Also, freezing thawed food is dangerous but Tabaro advises to check and observe the use-by dates on food products.

Bukaba explains that you should not conserve fruits or vegetables with damages; you need to ensure that there are no insects hiding in the foods you want to preserve.

Tabaro says that food should be packaged properly but you should also add additives like chemicals such as citric acid and others to increase their life span.

He adds that some of the conditions that can occur due to consuming contaminated food include typhoid, diarrhoea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and headache among others.

Political awareness and consumer education on food safety can help strengthen enforcement of food standards, improve hygienic practices, and prevent foodborne illnesses, WHO states.

Keys to safer food recommended by WHO include; keeping food surfaces clean, washing all utensils as soon as used, separating raw food from cooked food, cooking food thoroughly at the appropriate temperature, keeping food at safe temperatures, both for serving and storage and using safe water and raw materials.


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