It was your best friend’s birthday and you were excited about it. Just thinking about the mouth watering fare that was laid out at the party got you even more excited. But now that you find yourself vomiting accompanied by nausea and unbearable abdominal cramps, you sure aren’t excited! While it is sure that the food that you ate at the party has bought on a bout of food poisoning, it could very well have been avoided.
So what is food poisoning?
Food poisoning is illness bought on by the consumption of food contaminated by bacteria, virus, chemicals and other contaminants. The most common symptoms of food poisoning are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain and abdominal cramping. Symptoms depend on the amount of the contaminated food that has been ingested and on the level of contamination of the food. It takes anywhere from 30 minutes to a day for the symptoms to occur and if left untreated the symptoms can worsen and last for weeks at a time. It’s best to get treatment immediately after the occurrence of the symptoms to avoid the pain, discomfort and feeling of nausea.
How Do I avoid Food Poisoning?
Food poisoning can easily be avoided if you follow a few simple tips when it comes to eating, storing and cooking your food,
Following are a few simple tips which if put into practice will help prevent food poisoning:
Pay attention: Paying attention to the manufacturing dates and checking whether the seal cover has been broken or tampered with, especially with meat products and fruits, goes a long way in preventing food poisoning.
Also take care to buy any cold storage foods at the very end of your shopping tour of the foods section of the market, as these foods are notorious for going bad even with little exposure to heat. And in places like India with hot and humid conditions, cold storage foods should be transferred as soon as possible to either the fridge or similar cool places to preserve them for further use.
Storage: How many times have you bought those expensive imported mushrooms from the supermarket only to have to throw them away after they went bad, in spite of keeping them in the fridge? Plenty of times, right!
The storage is one area where most foods tend to go bad, due to improper temperatures and crowding- too many food items. Always remember to keep your fridge temperature between 0oC and 5oC, as bacteria and mold do not grow or develop on food items under these temperatures. Also do not forget to store meat and other dairy products along with fish in cool bags or plastic bags, or wrap them up in foil before you place them in the freezer, to prevent them from dripping onto other food items, especially if you are dealing with meat.
As for the foods that do not require cold storage, keep them in air-proof containers, which are placed in areas that do not receive sunlight directly or are damp to protect them from contamination by airborne contaminants.
Keep Food Items separate: Keeping food items separate from each other helps prevent contamination and thereby reduces the risk of food poisoning. It is a good idea to keep meat products separate from any other food items, when you store foods in your fridge.
Meat products tend to get spoilt easily if not stored well, while vegetables sometimes have worms already present in them that can multiply and contaminate the food, which in turn can lead to food poisoning. Thereby, remember to keep meat and dairy products on a different rack to avoid food poisoning.
Remember to wash your hands: Remember to wash your hands with soap and warm water to keep the food from being contaminated via your own hands! We use our hands to pick up things, to push, pull, hold and other such actions which ensure that our hands come in direct contact of many surfaces. Anything or any surface that we touch can be coated with microscopic bacteria and other such contaminants, which when transferred to the food lead to food poisoning!
Don’t forget to wash those fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables unlike poultry products harbor most of their germs, bacteria and other contaminants on the outside, which can be washed off easily with water. Before cooking vegetables, give them a thorough wash to get rid of germs and small worms that might be present on them. When it comes to washing fruits, ensure that you rub the fruits outer skin with your fingers to get rid of any germs that might stick to its skin.
Separate Chopping Boards: The best way to avoid food contamination when preparing food at home is to have two separate chopping boards. One board is to be used for chopping, slicing and mincing of the meat, eggs and fish while the other board should be used for chopping vegetables, fruits and ready to eat food products. This is necessary to avoid cross contamination between meat products and vegetables, as meat contains already present bacteria which can be left behind even after washing the board, which can cause food poisoning.
Cook food properly: Most cases of food poisoning would not occur if food was cooked properly. Food left raw or not cooked properly fails to destroy the bacteria, virus or other contaminants that were present in it, which leads to food poisoning. Food not cooked properly can still harbor harmful germs and bacteria despite being cooked on a low to medium flame. If you want to cook your food on a light fire, make sure to clean it thoroughly before cooking it, especially if it is a poultry product.
Don’t ignore the leftovers: Even though the leftovers from last night were washed thoroughly and cooked properly, they will develop bacteria even though you leave them in your freezer! To ensure that this does not occur, heat them again when you take them out for eating. And if you are planning on preserving them for a couple more days, it would be a good idea to re-heat them a number of times to avoid the formation of bacteria and also for killing any bacteria that might have developed over the time.
Don’t eat uncovered food: India is famous for many things and amongst them is the ‘Delhi Belly’, a stomach bug known to affect almost all foreigners and locals who eat uncovered food. Uncovered food attracts flies and other insects that might bring dirt, germs, bacteria and other similar contaminants to the food. Eating such food can lead to food poisoning. Moreover it’s a good idea to give street food a miss as it makes use of old and pre-used oil and is cooked in unhygienic conditions which make it a germs and bacteria breeding ground.
Finally trust your instinct: More than often, we get a gut feeling just after smelling or looking at certain foods, that they might be bad for us. Go with your gut feeling, it’s certainly better than puking your guts out after a nasty bout of food poisoning!
Once you know of these simple ways to prevent food poisoning, you can go right ahead and enjoy that gourmet spread laid out on your friend’s birthday party. Just remember to wash your hands before you dig in!