How To Avoid Food Poisoning

Millions of food poisoning cases occur each year, and millions more go unrecognised because they are mis-diagonisd – or unreported. The symptoms include: vomiting, diarrhoea and pain in the abdomen.

Most of us can handle a little food poisoning without major upset, but there are a number of high-risk groups for whom it can be very dangerous, even fatal. These groups include the elderly, infants, pregnant women and the chronically ill, especially those with weakend immune systems. There are also certain types of food poisoning like (botulism) that can be deadly for just about anyone.

WHAT CAUSES FOOD POISONING?

Most food poisoning occurs because food was handled improperly at home, often during routine procedures that we all take for granted.(Other stages at which germs and toxins might enter food are during cultivation and storage).

There are four main culprits:

Bacteria: These are responsible for more than two-thirds of food poisoning episodes. The important germs in this category are Salmonella, Staphylococci Clostrdia and Bacillus Cereus. The food we eat, no matter how hygienically prepared, almost always contains a few bacteria. However, a small number does not cause illness: at a rough estimate, about one million bacteria must be present before a healthy adult will come to harm. However, in case of children under one year, or in case of old or sick persons, only one lakh bacteria bring on illness.

Viruses: These are the simplest living organisms containing only genetic material. Viruses require living tissues for their growth and multiplication, therefore will not multiply in food. However, food can serve as a transport vehicle for viruses. Since viruses are destroyed by temperatures achieved in normal cooking, food poisoning by viruses occurs largely in food which has not been cooked or has been handled after cooking by a person who is a carrier of viruses.

Chemicals: Common chemicals which produce food poisoning are pesticides, detergents, paraffin, food additives, sterilizing agents and packing materials. Food poisoning from chemicals is mostly caused by carelessness in the home or in an industrial establishment.

Try to avoid buying attractive and highly-coloured foods as these contain several addictives which way harmful. Carefully read the manufacturer’s information/instructions regarding contents, use and storage.

Aoid the use of packaged wheat-flour. Instead, buy whole-wheat from the market, clean it with plenty of water, dry it and have it ground at a floor mill.

Vegetables: Certain naturally poisonous plants, when accidentally mixed in with vegetables, cause food posioning. Among these are toadstool (confused with mushroom), hemlock, black nightshade, rhubarb leaves and undercooked red kidney beans. The toxins of most plants are unaffected by cooking.

HOW GERMS GAIN ACCESS TO THE KITCHEN

The main entry points are:

Food Handlers: Usually these are carriers (persons carrying the germs in their body but not suffering from the disease itself). They may be convalescents, i.e. people who have recently suffered food poisoning and who, though recovered, continue to pass a small number of these germs in the faeces; these may gain access to food due to improper washing of hands and poor general hygiene.

Carriers may also be healthy people who have not suffered the symptoms of food poisoning but nevertheless carry harmful germs in their intestines. Again, the medium of instruction is faeces.

Animals, birds and Insects: Flies, rats, birds, other insects and animals (incluing pets) usually carry bacteria in their intestines and on their feet and fur. These animals are infected through eating contaminated feeds, grazing on contaminated pasture land or through contact with other (infected) animals.

Food and food products: When animals are slaughtered and dressed, germs from the surroundings and from the hands of the handlers may contaminate the surface of the meat where they grow and multiply.

Dust: Vegetables are usually contaminated with dust which may contain bacterial spores. Spores are the unique feature of some (not all) bacteria. When growth and multiplication of bacteria is not possible due to an unfavourable environment, the bacterial cells form spores (small, reproductive cells) and the remaining part of the germs disintegrates. These spores are resistant to even boiling and freezing, can survive for years without food or water and, in faourable circumstances, are capable of reverting to the original, infective form – to grow again and multiple.

Raw vegetables should be first rinsed in plenty of water and then dipped in a very weak solution of potassium permanganate (about of grams in 1 litre of water), for 5 minutes, and then washed again thoroughly with clean water. Potassium permanganate removes the surface dirt, spores and germs.

Cross-contamination: This is the transmission of germs from a contaminated source to uncontaminated food (usually freshly cooked food). If this food is suitable for bacterial growth and is left for some time in a warm room, the transferred organisms multiply rapidly. Some examples of this process in a kitchen are:

  • Using a chopping board, a work surface or kitchen equipment in the preparation of two different foods without washing it in between, eg using a mincer for raw meet and then for cooked corned beef. The same principle holds true for the hands of the cook.
  • Sneezing, coughing, smoking, scratching around the genitals or the anus while in the kitchen and not washing hand thereafter.
  • Wearing highly engraved jewellery while preparing food. The crevices offer a foothold for germs which may then be transferred to the food.
  • By combining hair in the kitchen or from loose strands of hair.
  • From skin infections, especially of the hands (boils, furuncles, wounds etc.) in the cook.
  • From the crevices of craked/chipped plates and damaged utensils.
  • Through unhygienic food tasting, eg, dipping a finger in prepared food without washing, then licking it and again dipping it in another prepared for unprepared food, without washing in between.
  • By touching dirty linen, wash-cloths, dusters, etc. while preparing/handling food.
  • By incorrect placement of food in the refrigerator. For example, keeping uncooked meat on the top shelf, and uncovered, roasted chicken on the shelf below: Blood from the uncooked meat may drip on to the chicken and contaminate it. In the low temperature inside the fridge, these germs remain dormant, but once the food is warmed for serving or even thawed out at room temperature, the germs multiply rapidly.

HOW GERMS GROW IN FOOD

Germs thrive best when four conditions are optimum:

Temperature: Bacteria that cause food poisoning grow and multiply fastest at the temperature of the human body (37° C). Above and below the temperature, the rate of growth decreases, but still fairly rapid at about 30° C – which would be the room temperature in a poorly-ventilated kitchen during summers.

At the temperature of boiling water, i.e. 100° C, bacteria are killed in one or two minutes (though spores are not).

At low temperatures, such as in a fridge, they become dormant, but start multiplying again once the food is removed for thawing or warming.

The Type of Food: Germs multiply rapidly in those foods which have a high protein and moisture content, such as meat, poultry, dairy products, gravies and sauces. Protein and moisture provide “nutrition” to bacteria and act as very good culture media. (In the laboratory, most bacteria are grown over a blood or egg-containing medium.)

Moisture: Dehydrated products, such as milk powders, do not allow the growth of bacteria, but the bacteria remain dormant until the powders are reconstituted. So, reconstituted powder milk,eg, must be stored in the refrigerator as soon as water is added to it.

The Time Factor: If conditions are conducive, bacteria divide into two, every twenty minutes. Therefore, the longer food is allowed to stay in conditions optimum from bacterial growth, the greater the extent to contamination.

HOW TO PREVENT FOOD POISONING?

The ground rule is to maintain regorous hygiene at all the points at which food is handled:

Personal hygiene of the food-handler

  • Germs cling to the skin surface and persist in hair follicles, in skin pores, or in crevices and lesions caused by breaks in the skin. The hands should be washed with plenty of soap and water, preferably warm. A disinfectant solution may also be used, as an added precaution.
  • Nails should be short, unchipped and, preferably, unvarnished (if varnished, the varnish should not be chipped.)
  • Wet hands contain more bacteria than dry hands. Use clean towels to dry them. If you can afford an electrically-operated hand drier, that’s even more hygienic.
  • The food handler should remove all jewellery from his/her hands.
  • If any cut,wound or boil is present on the hand, a coloured waterproof dressing should be apllied over it so that if it accidentally falls off into the food, it can be easily noticed and the food discarded.
  • It is very important to wash hands after a trip to the toilet, blowing your nose, handling raw meat, poultry or contaminated food, etc.
  • The food handler should not smoke in the kitchen and should sneeze or cough into a tissue which should then be discarded.
  • Cover hair under a cap or net.
  • Clothes should be clean and should cover exposed areas of the body as far as possible. Long sleeves should be rolled up or securely fastened at the wrists so that cuffs do not dip into the food.
  • Always waer full-length apron.
  • During illness, the nasal and throat carriage of bacteria is increased, so sick persons and those who have suffered from food poisoning, diarrhoea and vomiting in the recent past (even if they are apparently healthy now) should not be allowed into the kitchen.

Hygiene in the Preparation, Cooking and Storage of food

  • Thaw all frozen foods completely before cooking. If you do not, the ice crystals at the centre of the food prevent the temperature that reaches the centre at the time of cooking from being sufficiently high to kill the bacteria there; at the same time, this temperature level will be optimum for bacterial multiplication!
  • Food should not be repeatedly frozen, thawed and re-frozen. Each time it thaws, it reaches a temperature that’s conducive to bacterial growth.
  • Cook food thoroughly at one go. Never do it in two stages – bacteria remain alive in partially-cooked foods and on cooling they multiply and survive right through the next phase of partial cooking.
  • Never keep the food warm (as in casseroles) because these provide the optimum temperature for bacterial multiplication.
  • Never re-heat the food more than once. Again, bacteria get a chance to multiply when the food has gone from ‘hot’ to ‘warm’. If re-heating is absolutely necessary, the food should be covered and cooled very rapidly after cooking and stored in the refrigerator until it is ready to be re-heated. To speed cooling, divide up the food into several containers or cut up big chunks into smaller pieces.
  • Quick, high temperature cooking is the best. The traditional practice of slow cooking in open pots increases the risk of food poisoning.
  • As eggs, especially duck’s eggs, are a known risk for salmonella poisoning, lightly cooked uncooked dishes such as scrambled eggs, omelette and poached eggs should preferably be avoided. Safer options are hard-boiled eggs (boiled for at least ten minutes), eggs fried well on both sides or eggs used in baked products such as cakes and puddings, which require cooking temperatures high enough to destroy the germs.
  • Cook foods to the proper temperatures. Meat should be cooked at least 160° degrees. Red meat is thoroughly cooked when it is brown or gray inside. Poultry is done when the juices become clear. Fish, which cooks very quickly, flakes easily with a fork when it is done.
  • Serve food as soon as possible after cooking. Don’t let it sit out for more than two hours at room temperature. If you are serving buffet-style, keep cold food on ice, hot food over warmers. Put out only small portions at a time so that the remainder can stay hot or cold in the kitchen until needed.
  • As far as possible, avoid buying prepared foods because you have no guarantee of the hygiene maintained in the preparation of such foods. If you must buy such goods, prefer frozen foods to warm foods, since they provide less opportunity for bacterial multiplication.
  • Don’t buy food in damage containers. Avoid cans and glass jars that have dents cracks or bulging lids. A damaged container may allow bacteria to get inside and multiple.
  • Use highly acidic canned foods, such as tomato and apple products, within 12 to 18 months. Other canned goods, such as canned meat, poultry, stews, pasta products, potatoes and peas can be stored longer (from two to five years).

There are several reasons for this. First, when acidic foodstuffs are packed in metal containers, the acid dissolves the metal which is absorbed into the contents of the tin/can, affecting their flavour and texture, thus causing spoilage.

The acid itself also softens the preserved food, again damaging its texture – “spoilage”.

Finally, meats and other hardy foods like pasta and potatoes preserve better because, at the time of processing, it is possible for them to withstands the duration and kind of temperature required for virtually complete sterilization – 121° C, for 20 minutes at 15 pounds of steam pressure. However, succulent foods like apples, tomatoes and mangoes cannot withstand such processing without having their flavour and texture altered. So, they are heated at a lower temperature, under less pressure, for longer time. Because of the incomplete sterilization, the chances of spoilage in such foods are comparatively higher.

  • Preferably, all canned food should be stored in the refrigerator – especially if you intend to use it over a prolonged period. In any case, don’t use it beyond the expiry date. All opened canned food should be stored as freshly cooked-food.
  • Do not put hot foods directly into the fridge. Apart from damaging the cooling coils, this can encourage the growth of certain germs and moulds.
  • The refrigerator door should be kept shut as far as possible; the fridge should also be regularly defrosted to remove excess ice around the cooling coils which decreases is efficiency.

Hygiene in The Kitchen

A sterile kitchen would be a mere fantasy. However, proper design and maintenance can go a long way in ensuring a clean and hygienic cooking environment and significantly reducing the risks of food poisoning:

  • The kitchen should be spacious enough to allow easy and thorough cleaning. Equipment should be moveable or, in the case of fridges, for example, should be placed where it is possible to clean its back, sides and under-surface.
  • The areas of preparation, cooking and washing up should be well separated to lessen the chances of cross-contamination.
  • The kitchen should be provided with a large window and ventilator, if possible with exhaust fan.
  • The window should be covered with thin wire mesh to prevent the entry of house-flies and other pests.
  • The cutting/chopping board should be made from hard-wearing, easily cleaned material which does not absorb moisture, chip or crack and is not affected by food residues. Stainless steel is the best choice, better than even plastic laminates which, of however superior quality, are still susceptible to scratches from knife blades etc. However, even today, far too many kitchens use wooden boards, which easily develop cracks and crevices, enabling germs to thrive.
  • Every kitchen should have a round-cornered dustbin, preferably with paddle-operated lid, and it should never be allowed to overflow.
  • Kitchen floors should be made of a hard-wearing, anti-slip, easily-cleaned material which is unaffected by moisture, and resistant to salt and fruit acids. Unbroken, smooth quarry tiles are a good choice.
  • The ceiling should have a smooth finish to facilitate cleaning (an absorbent plaster with washable emulation). Walls should be smooth and light-coloured to make dirt easily traceable.
  • Pick up knives, forks and spoons by their handles, glasses by their stems and plates by their edges. Discard any chipped plate or glass and any damaged utensils because even efficient washing may not get rid of the germs harboured in crevices and cracks.
  • Rat and mice carry bacteria in their fur, feet and faeces. Since they breed in warm and dark corners, the kitchen premises should be kept in good repair with no holes, or defective pipes or drains. Store-rooms for storage areas should be cleaned regularly. All the stocks must be kept off the ground and used in rotation to ensure that rats and mice are not been sheltered at the back of the store-room. If you do have a rodent problem, get rid of the pests with a mousetrap or a mild rodenticide.
  • Flies are the commonest carrier of food-poisoning bacteria. Reduce the risks by covering windows and ventilators with fine wire mesh, using covered dustbins and, if necessary, an insecticidal spray.
  • Cockroaches typically hide behind ovens and cooking ranges, water pipes, and refrigerators. They can be killed by most available insecticides.

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Survival Tips – The Best Emergency Food Kit

Who Needs The Best Emergency Food Kit?

Who knows what the future holds? If only we knew, day to day, what challenges would arise, we would never be caught unawares. Unfortunately, life just doesn’t work that way. Those who prefer to look forward and make preparations for the “just in case” scenarios are often painted as fringe lunatics and doomsday preppers. However, assembling the best emergency food kit for yourself or your family should be something every responsible adult takes seriously. Just a few of the “normal” situations that could arise, when having emergency rations for your family would make sense, include: loss of a job, temporary lay off, extended storm damage or power outage that traps your family at home. Or perhaps you’d just like to be a position to help another family in need, should the opportunity arise. Then there are Armageddon type scenarios that plague the mind of some, and no better way to put those fears to rest than to look ahead and prepare for the worst. Whatever your reasons for looking forward and setting up emergency rations against a difficult time ahead, we are here to help you build the very best emergency food kit for your family.

Identifying Your Needs

First, lay out your preparation strategy. If you’re just getting started in emergency preparation, you may not have more than a day or two worth of food in your cupboard. If that’s the case, building up a thirty day supply of food is a good place to start. If you already have 30 days of emergency rations laid by, the next step may be building up a six month or year emergency food kit. The important thing is to start somewhere, and build your supplies up until you’ve assembled the best emergency food kit that you’re able.

Who Are You Feeding?

Do you have children in the house? Teens? Older or elderly adults? Infants will require special feeding accommodations like milk or formula, while the elderly may have some unique nutritional needs, as well. Map out on paper who you’re building a food supply for and any special things you need to prepare for them, or for yourself. Then consider what it takes to feed that person for a single day.

How Many?

Once you’ve written down what it takes to feed one person for one day, you’ll need to multiply that by the number of people, and the number of days for which you’re preparing.

What Do They Like To Eat?

There’s no need to live for a month on nothing but rice and beans. You don’t want to stock up on three months worth of food that your family won’t touch with a six-foot pole, just because it was cheap. It may keep you alive in a pinch, but you want to enjoy it, if possible. So take the likes and dislikes into consideration as you plan. Don’t forget to consider food allergies, as well. In an emergency situation, you wouldn’t want to face an allergic reaction from cross contamination, so better to avoid problem foods altogether, if possible.

Types Of Emergency Rations

There are dozens of ways to build up a great emergency food kit. The easiest, though certainly not the least expensive, is to invest in commercially prepared emergency rations, offered by various companies. These kits come as single servings, or a month’s worth of food for a single person. There are dozens of options to choose from.

Another method, requiring a little planning and management, is to simply take what you buy and use on a weekly basis, and start building up a supply that will last. If you ordinarily use three cans of beans and two boxes of mac ‘n’ cheese and a jar of peanut butter each week, then begin buying double that, and set the extra aside for your emergency food kit. Then manage your stock by rotating it so that your food stays as fresh as possible. Freshness would be a significant advantage in a long-term disaster, where you’re relying on your emergency rations for months, or even years.

Once you’ve built up a few months supply of food, organize your cans and boxes with the soonest expiration date in the front and the furthest out in the back. Then, when you do your grocery shopping, put the new stuff in the back and use from the front. This keeps your stock fresh and ready to use if and when the need arises.

Home canning is another less expensive way to build up your emergency food kit. Canning is becoming a lost art, so if you’re not familiar with how to do it, you’re not alone. Canning food in glass jars requires a little learning and effort but can allow you to preserve tasty, homemade food for years. Be sure to learn which foods require pressure cooking versus water-bathing methods of preservation. Properly canned goods keep best in cool, dark places between 50 and 70 *F (10 – 21 *C) and are safe to eat for years after canning.

For bulk dry goods that are intended for long term storage, wheat, beans, rice, sugar and other dry goods can be vacuum sealed and stored in five gallon buckets with O2 absorbers to last for thirty years and more. For the truly prepared minded, a few buckets of wheat and corn will go a long way toward peace of mind.

A vacuum sealer is a good investment for anyone serious about their emergency rations. Sealing foods in smaller quantities not only preserves them longer but allows you to use them a little at a time, rather than having to use a large container up quickly once you’ve opened it.

If you’re worried about the expiration date on store-bought canned goods, keep this story in mind. A steamboat named the Bertrand was trying to reach Montana in 1865 when it sunk to the bottom of the Missouri river. One hundred years later, canned goods from that wreck were recovered. In 1974, 109 years after the accident, the food was tested by chemists and found safe to eat. You should use good sense when eating canned foods that have passed their expiration dates. If it looks odd, smells bad or tastes bad, don’t eat it!

Signs That The Food In Your Emergency Food Kit Has Gone Bad

Signs canned goods have gone bad: the can is bulging, or the lid has come unsealed. Check for mold or fermentation bubbles in the liquid. If the food rushes out of the can or jar when you open it, there is pressure on the contents that wasn’t there when the can or jar was sealed. This is a good indication of bacterial activity causing a chemical reaction.

Comfort Foods

Once you’ve established a good base for emergency rations, you might want to start thinking about adding some comfort foods to your store. In stressful situations, we all turn to food for comfort, and yummy food might not be easy to come by in the event of a disaster. Some things to store include:

  • Chocolate - powdered cocoa keeps the best, but chocolate bars over 70% cocoa will keep for several months, and much longer if frozen. Hot chocolate mix has a shelf life of several years, and could easily be added to the rotation of your emergency food kit.
  • Mac n’ cheese – Best preserved dried by separating the noodles and cheese, and then vacuum sealing them with O2 absorbers. If you’re worried about being able to cook macaroni and cheese, it can be canned, but it won’t have the same texture as freshly made. Under cooking the noodles before canning will help it to be less mushy.
  • Honey - made with natural preservatives, honey will keep indefinitely, as long as water never gets near it. Store in very clean, very dry glass jars. If it crystallizes, you can return it to its liquid state with a little heat.
  • Freeze dried fruit or dehydrated fruit can be a great energy booster and will keep well when stored properly.
  • Hard candy – store with desiccants and vacuum sealing to provide a much needed pick me up under stressful conditions.
  • Coconut oil, especially virgin coconut oil will store for a very long time and provide added fat for comforting recipes when butter isn’t available.
  • Spices - if you get to a place where you’re having to make all of your food from what you have on hand, you’ll be very glad for some extra spices to… well… spice things up.
  • Alcohol - Obviously, a comforting item, but it serves many purposes in a disaster scenario and it keeps well. High alcohol content (over 20%) will keep the longest and over 40% can serve as a disinfectant if needed.
  • Tea - keeps well without special accommodations. To keep it the very freshest, store in small quantities with an O2 absorber.
  • Coffee - For those who really need their cuppa to keep their chin up, coffee will be an important part of the very best emergency food kit. Roasted coffee keeps, vacuum sealed in Mylar bags, for up to two years. If you rotate it through your emergency rations, you will have good coffee for some time. For preparation beyond that, you can store green coffee beans in Mylar bags with O2 absorbers, then roast and grind them as needed.

What To Choose?

How to decide what goes into the very best emergency food kit? A good rule of thumb is six months to a year of food that you would eat every day. This is easily managed through good shopping and rotation. For preparation beyond that time frame, vacuum sealed Mylar bags will keep dry goods for years. Many companies and even faith-based family preparation programs offer dry goods preserved in #10 cans that will keep up to 30 years. Building an emergency food kit that can last several years in a pinch is possible, with planning and forethought.

Water will be critical to surviving certain types of disaster scenarios. When planning for emergency situations, one liter of water per person per day is a good starting point. You’ll need some extra for sanitation and cooking, as well. Be sure you have plenty of water on hand, or a way to obtain water and sanitize it. Sanitation tablets and filtration systems would be a major component of the best emergency food kit.

Looking Ahead

For total preparedness, it’s important to think ahead to food preparation during an emergency. If the power was out for three weeks, how would you cook that mac ‘n’ cheese you took such care to store? Even if you have a power generator for emergencies, stoves and microwaves pull too much energy to use the generator for cooking. A propane or butane camp stove with plenty of fuel cells, or a propane or charcoal grill are great options to have on hand. And don’t forget to include a manual can opener in your emergency food kit.

Where To Keep It?

Storage space can be tricky, depending on your housing situation. If at all possible, you’ll want to designate a neatly organized room that’s specifically for food storage. You’ll label your shelves, and keep things nicely stocked and rotated. If you don’t live in this kind of fairy tale situation, you may have to get a little more creative about how you store your emergency food kit. A lot of food can be neatly stored, in cardboard boxes, under beds, in the bottoms or tops of closets, and under the stairs. You may need to reduce unnecessary clutter, to make room for emergency rations. The reward will be worth the effort.

Be Prepared, Not Scared

Taking the steps required to create the best emergency food kit that you possibly can will pay off in peace of mind. To know that you have the ability to care for those you love, and to be able to reach out to those around you in their time of need, will put you in a category reserved for just a few. You’ll rest easy at night, knowing that whatever tomorrow holds, your family is provided for.