According to estimates, almost 10% of Britain’s population will experience a food-related illness in any one year. That’s a huge figure, and by the nature of their lower immune systems, older people are particularly at risk, and a problem can take longer to cure. But there are ways you can keep yourself safer.
Cooking and Cooling
The single biggest factor in food poisoning is the temperature of the food. It has to be cooked or chilled properly, not just outside, but all the way through. Cooked food should be 71 degrees C (160 F) to kill all the bacteria inside (with meat, try using a meat thermometer). If you’re not going to eat the food immediately, cover it. Store what you can’t eat in the fridge, but never reheat it more than once.
You need to keep the temperature in your fridge under 5 C (40 F), and the freezer should be below -18 C (0 F) – use a thermometer if you’re not sure of the temperature in your fridge. Never keep cooked and uncooked food together – they can contaminate each other – and store uncooked meat at the bottom of the fridge. That way, if it drips, it won’t be on anything else.
Cover the food in your fridge, either with shrink wrap or foil (shrink wrap is best) – this includes any leftovers, although you shouldn’t allow them to sit there for more than a couple of days. If you haven’t eaten them by then, throw them away.
Defrost your food properly before you cook it. Do it gradually in the fridge or use the microwave (on the defrost setting) – never let food just sit on your kitchen counter to defrost; that’s asking for trouble. Once you’ve thawed something, don’t freeze it again.
Check the sell-by dates on perishable food, and if an item’s past that, throw it away rather than cooking it; there’s no way to know if it’s bad before it’s in your stomach. Wash fresh fruit before you eat it to get rid of any harmful spray residue.
Eggs don’t pose the risk of salmonella that they once did. But you should still keep them in the fridge, and be aware of their expiration date. Keep them away from strong-smelling foods – the porous egg shells can absorb the odour. It’s not a good idea for seniors to eat raw eggs.
In an ideal world, we’d all have two chopping boards – one for meat, one for everything else, and use two sets of kitchen knives. However, for most of us that’s not possible. So the best way to avoid salmonella is by washing your chopping board and knives after cutting raw meat (preferably with an anti-bacterial detergent) before using it for other things. Wash your hands, too.
These might all seem straightforward, and they are. They’re really just common sense, but all too often we forget them. They only take a little time. But they’ll keep you – and your food – safer, and stop you being a victim of a food-related illness.