The last couple of months have subjected most of humanity, to historic highs across certain feelings we didn't pay a lot of attention to earlier. And by earlier, I mean before a raging pandemic changed the landscape of life. Now, however, stress about one's safety, incessant worrying about health concerns, and the fear of getting infected, are some of the most globally and intensely experienced emotions. It's not like we didn't care about staying healthy during our pre-Coronavirus lives, but our brains are certainly a lot warier, and eyes more open, to the potential threats we can get exposed to.
From the mile-long list of health and safety reservations, consumption of contaminated food is a prominent and persistent feature. Even if we can't be sure about the spread of the virus through food, food-borne diseases always pose a risk to your physical well-being. So, just like in the case of most medical matters of concern, precautionary steps and careful measures, are our best bet at warding off any health threats.
All that to say, making your food safer isn't that far-fetched a prospect, and can actually be achieved quite easily. All you gotta do is stay mindful about a couple of pointers while preparing, serving and storing your meals, and your risk for catching a disease from your dinner, goes down considerably. So this Cooking Day, let's all devote some time, to go over these 10 tips for food safety and learn about the food safety precautions one can take.
1. First Things First, Wash Your Hands
Luckily for those of us who didn't previously have this habit, a pandemic has definitely proved to be sound enough reason to start. But in the context of cooking in your kitchen, washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water before you touch any of the ingredients, is absolutely crucial to prevent contamination of food. Warm water is preferable, and you need to mindfully scrub every part of your hand, fingers and nails. If possible, it's also advisable to turn off the tap with a paper towel, instead of directly touching it with your now clean hands.
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2. Sanitise Your Kitchen Counter And Sink With Chlorine Bleach And Water
Even when we are more careful than usual, some kitchen ingredients like vegetables and fruits, as well as utensils are highly likely to come into contact with your kitchen countertop, and the sink. So sanitising these surfaces every day, is immensely important to prevent the transfer of disease-causing germs and microbes onto your food particles. Either use a sanitizer to disinfect these surfaces, or you can prepare a homemade solution of chlorine bleach with water, and wipe down these surfaces carefully.
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3. Regularly Clean Your Appliances, Especially The Buttons And Knobs
This includes the appliances you use often, like a microwave oven, mixer-grinder or a toaster, as well as appliances you whip out occasionally. Clean the inside and outside of these appliances with water and a safe cleaning agent of your choice. Be sure to pay extra attention to surfaces like buttons and knobs that are both prone to the accumulation of bacteria and germs, as well as likely to be directly touched by the person cooking.
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4. Replace Cutting Boards With Cracks And Chinks
In most Indian households, cutting boards aren't replaced as frequently as they should be. As a result, cracks, scratches and chinks caused by knives or other tools, act as crevices where bacteria can accumulate, and cause diseases when your food comes into contact. Hence, it's highly advisable that you pay attention to these, and replace your chopping board the moment it starts seeming unsanitary.
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5. Rinse All Your Produce Under Running Water
Before you eat, cut or cook fruits and vegetables, you need to rinse them under running tap water for a couple of minutes. This is an important step we often overlook, especially if we eventually plan to peel or cut the produce. However, to prevent the transmission of microbes from the dirty outside of your produce, to the insides you will consume, a thorough rinse under warm water is crucial.
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6. Thaw Frozen Food In The Fridge, And Not Your Kitchen Countertop
Because your kitchen countertop is one of the most touched surfaces in your entire kitchen, it's highly inadvisable to let frozen food ingredients sit out on the slab in order to thaw them. Instead, transferring from the freezer to the fridge is a much safer bet, even if it proves to be a tad more time-consuming. Just remember to place the food in a dip-proof container, and stack it where the melting water won't ruin other food in the fridge.
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7. Use Separate Cutting Boards For Produce And Meat, Poultry & Seafood
Another often neglected precaution and one of the major contributors to food-borne diseases, using a separate cutting board for fruits and vegetables, and meat, poultry products and seafood, is important for food safety. Only use a wooden cutting board for produce, since in the case of meat, bacteria and other microbes can seep into the wood thus rendering it highly unsanitary. Instead, use a plastic cutting board for non-vegeterian raw food.
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8. Never Leave Cooked Food At Room Temperature For More Than 2 Hours
4.45* C to 60*C is considered to be the danger zone of food temperatures. Within this temperature range, your food is most prone to the rapid growth of highly harmful disease-causing bacteria. So if your food has been sitting out in the room temperature for more than 2 hours, it definitely isn't safe for consumption. Instead, make it a practice to store uneaten food in the fridge within this 2-hour time frame.
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9. Don't Keep Leftovers For More Than 2-3 Days And Avoid Reheating More Than Once
Technically, leftovers can be re-heated on more than one occasion, but the quality of your food is going to substantially dip each time you do so. The more times you heat and cool your food, the greater is the risk of food poisoning. So be mindful about taking out, only the portion you plan to eat, and heat that right before consumption while storing the rest in the refrigerator. Also, avoid keeping leftovers that are more than 2-3 days old to reduce the risk of diseases due to unhygienic food.
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10. Always Separate Raw And Cooked Food
From the tools you use to cut and chop, to the utensils you put them in, and down to how they're stored in the fridge, raw and cooked food should always be kept separate. Naturally, raw food is more bacteria-laden than cooked food, and if both come into contact it can lead to contamination. While cooking, never place any cooked food in a plate or a bowl that was previously occupied by raw ingredients, and use a separate knife to cut through cooked preparations than the one you're using to chop produce and meat. While storing in the fridge, always put raw ingredients in sealed or covered containers, and stash them at the bottom away from cold leftovers.
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11. Keep Your Fridge Set At 4*C & Sweep Clean Every Week
Don't wait to clean out your fridge till it smells like something died in there. Instead, inculcate the step of throwing out neglected leftovers and sweep cleaning your fridge, in your weekly cleaning routine. As for ideal refrigerator temperature, always keep it set at or below 4*C, while the freezer temperature should be set at -18*C.
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As the popular adage goes, better safe than sorry!