Thursday, 2 June 2011
The ongoing outbreak of E. coli infection in Germany highlights the importance of taking simple but effective measures when handling, preparing, cooking and storing food to avoid food poisoning.
Although there is no evidence to date that the outbreak occurring in Germany has affected anyone resident in Wales, following simple food safety advice can significantly reduce the risk of spreading harmful bacteria that can cause food poisoning such as salmonella, campylobacter, E. coli and listeria.
Our hands are the main way germs are spread, so it’s important to wash them thoroughly with soap and warm water before handling food and after touching raw meat or unwashed salad, fruit or vegetables. Hands should also be washed after contact with pets, after using the toilet and after cleaning up after others, especially children or pets with diarrhoea, to help reduce the spread of harmful bacteria and viruses.
Meat and poultry
Raw meat, including poultry, contains harmful bacteria that can spread easily to anything it touches. This includes other food, worktops, tables, chopping boards and knives. Worktops and utensils should be washed with hot water and detergent after being used for raw meat and if possible it is best to have a separate chopping board for use only with raw meat.
Cooking food at the right temperature will ensure that any harmful bacteria are killed. Check that food is piping hot right through to the middle before eating. This is especially important for poultry, pork, burgers, sausages, rolled joints of meat and kebabs which should always be fully cooked with no pink meat remaining.
It’s safe to serve steak and other whole cuts of beef and lamb rare (not cooked in the middle) or blue (seared on the outside) as long as they have been properly sealed (cooked quickly and at a high temperature on the outside only) to kill any bacteria on the meat’s surface.
Take particular care to keep raw meat away from ready-to-eat foods such as bread, salad and fruit. These foods won’t be cooked before eating so any germs that get on to them won’t be killed. When storing raw meat, always keep it in a clean, sealed container and place it on the bottom shelf of the fridge where it can’t touch or drip on to other foods.
Finally, there is no need to wash raw chicken as any germs on it will be killed by thorough cooking and washing may in fact cause germs to splash on nearby surfaces.
Salad, fruit and vegetables
Salad, fruit and vegetables should be washed thoroughly with running tap water; this is especially important if they are to be eaten raw. Peeling and cooking fruit and vegetables can also remove harmful germs.
Cooked leftovers should be cooled quickly, ideally within one or two hours, and then put in the fridge or freezer once cooled. Ensure that raw and ready to eat foods are kept separately in the fridge and that the fridge is at the recommended temperature (between 0-5C).
Unwashed salad, fruit or vegetables, as well as raw meat, should be kept separately from any food that will be consumed without further cooking at high temperature.
If you are reheating food, make sure it is piping hot all the way through and do not reheat food more than once.
Wash all worktops and chopping boards before and after cooking as they are sources of germ cross-contamination.
Damp sponges and cloths are the perfect place for bacteria to breed. Studies have shown the kitchen sponge to have the highest number of germs in the home. Wash and replace kitchencloths, sponges and tea towels frequently.
Further food safety advice is available from the Food Standards Agency website at: http://www.food.gov.uk/ and the NHS Choices website at: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/homehygiene/Pages/Foodhygiene.aspx
Information about the ongoing E. coli O104 outbreak in Germany is available from the Health Protection Agency website: http://www.hpa.org.uk/, the European Comission website at: http://ec.europa.eu/food/food/coli_outbreak_germany_en.htm and the Robert Koch Institute website at: http://www.rki.de/EN/Home/homepage__node.html