Kitchens are hotspots for food borne bacteria and precautions must be taken to enusre hygiene in food preparation areas, says A Ganesh
One of the gravest and life threatening dangers in the kitchen largely comprise of food borne illnesses. Food borne diseases causes approximately 76 million illnesses globally, 325,000 illnesses and 5,000 deaths a year in the United States alone according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In India, where there seems to be poor control over the rapidly flourishing food preparation joints, figures would not be appropriate because a very few cases are reported to public health officials.
Food borne illnesses are caused largely by disease causing bacteria or by poisonous toxins which they produce. These bacteria can quickly spread and find their way into food via the food chain, i.e. from soil and water – raw produce – kitchen surfaces – hands of food handlers – food handling equipments – food service utensils – food served. The top three reasons for food poisoning include poor time – temperature controls, cross contamination and poor personal hygiene.
Kitchens are hotspots for such opportunistic microbes. And moreover, during monsoons when diseases and infections are rampant, one would opt to be more careful on selecting the type of foods to be consumed. Here are a few tips from our experiences on preventing food borne illnesses in commercial and household food preparation areas and kitchens.
Food safety for commercial food preparation areas
Supplier safety assurance: While food safety starts with the supplier, ensure that food materials and ingredients are purchased only from reputed, known and approved suppliers. Ensure checking of all consignments as per specifications. Be selective about certain seafood like prawns, crabs, shellfish, etc which can harbour infectious germs.
Ensure safety conditions for water: Water is an essential component of the human body and is consumed in its original stage and as a food ingredient. It is also used for washing foods and food contact surfaces.
Contamination of distribution water can be rampant in rains due to leaking pipes and contaminated water at source which if not adequately disinfected and treated can harbour infectious microbes. All water consumed as a drink must be thoroughly filtered and treated to render it bacteria safe at household level (water purifiers may be used) or in the absence of the same water should be disinfected.
Disinfection of food contact surfaces: Use separate chopping boards and utensils including cutting and trimming implements for vegetarian and non-vegetarian foods. These should be disinfected between uses especially for non-vegetarian food and before being used to handle ready to eat food. Disinfecting can be carried out in boiling water for 2 minutes. Do not forget to disinfect knives and cleaning cloths.
Time – temperature controls: The temperature danger zone (TDZ) for disease causing bacterial build-up is from 5 – 600 Celsius. Hence the golden rule: Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. For frozen foods, the holding temperature should not exceed -120 Celsius or temperatures that permit thawing.
If your fridge is not equipped with temperature monitoring device one needs to leave one inside to ensure that the temperature does not exceed 70 Celsius.
Do not leave perishables/ ready-to-eat food in the temperature zone for over four hours.
Cook food properly. If microwave is used to prepare food, one must ensure that food is heated to at least 700 Celsius.
Never allow food to thaw on the kitchen work surface but preferably in the microwave or refrigerator and always in a dish.
Clean as you go: Keep all food handling and storage areas clean and remove unwanted materials. Ensure that hidden and inaccessible areas are kept to a minimum and maintained clean to guard against pests which can spread diseases. Apply targeted use of an anti-microbial cleaning product for work surfaces which come into direct food contact like chopping boards, work tables, etc ; dish sponge, dish cloth and cleaning cloth; fridge shelves, handles and gaskets; and electrical kitchen appliances which come into direct contact with food. Food service and preparation utensils should be cleaned within two hours.
Waste handling: Do not leave garbage out in the open. It needs to be disposed off as quickly as possible in a proper manner. Get rid of decomposing food debris. Garbage bins may be lined with polythene and lidded when not in use to discourage flies and prevent cross contamination.
Ensure that all drains are protected with drain traps for cockroaches.
Conscientious hand washing: Use soap and water with a rubbing action for 20 seconds to clean hands. The rubbing action should include the palms, the dorsal side of the palm, the area between the fingers and around the fingers, the nails (could also be done with a nail brush), thumbs and the exposed part of the hand up to the wrist or beyond as applicable. The nails need to be short and rounded in any case. Wash hands after using the rest room, after break, before start of an activity, after touching body parts or garbage handling or any activity that could contaminate your hands. Remember, hands are an active carrier of microbes from the environment into your kitchen.
Hand disinfection after thorough washing is best carried out with alcoholic rub-in hand sanitisers.
The more we know the less we fear. Man has to learn to live in harmony with the environment by rightly understanding the interactions between microbes and man.
(The writer is Marketing Director, Diversey India Pvt.Ltd)