Diseases / Food

How to avoid food poisoning

We’ve all been there, staring at a sell-by date and wondering, “Is this going to be okay or am I going to make myself really sick?” We’ve all heard those rules about not putting open tins in the fridge or waiting until your food is cooled before storing it in the fridge, but how strict are these rules? Are they even true? What really causes food poisoning and how can we store (and consume) our food properly to keep those dreaded stomach grumbles away?

Christina Meyer, who caters for the Randburg Bowls Club, owns the catering company Kombuis Catering and has been in the industry for over twenty years. She explains that, more often than not, people make simple mistakes when it comes to food packaging, storing and consuming food. She also sheds some light as to how strictly we should abide by use-by and sell-by dates.

Tonic: How does food poisoning actually occur?

Christina Meyer: “There are two main reasons why people get food poisoning- the first is poor hygiene and the second is when the cold-chain is broken. A break in the cold-chain is when you freeze chicken that has been defrosted and then freeze it again. This causes bacteria to form and that’s what makes you sick. Poor hygiene relates to food that isn’t stored properly, for example not refrigerating food overnight, which basically causes it to go “off.””

T: What is the most common cause for food poisoning?

“I would definitely say poor hygiene, as it’s much more likely to occur based on people not washing their hands, not washing the contaminated surfaces that they cook and eat on or leaving food out and allowing bacteria to form.”

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T: What tips can you give people to improve their food hygiene in terms of storing and handling food ?

CM: “I would suggest that people keep hand sanitizer closely available and use it whenever they are going to eat out, students on campus or employees in a canteen. If you’re cooking at home, mix a little bit of Jik with water and scrub down your surfaces, especially if you live in an area where the water is contaminated such as Grahamstown. The Jik will remove the bacteria from the water as well.”

T: There are hard and fast rules such as putting tinned food or hot food in the fridge being bad. How true are these “rules”?

CM: “Putting hot food into a fridge is not necessarily bad for you, but endangers the other food in your fridge more due to the steam and then disrupting the cold-chain.

A long time ago, tinned food had lead in it and it wasn’t advisable to refrigerate it. But now, as long as the tin is covered, it should be fine, especially if its products like baked beans or similar things. With tinned meat however, like tuna, rather store it in a plastic, covered container.”

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Meyer also explains that with the amount of preservatives in food these days, use-by dates are often a guideline when it comes to products such as preservative-loaded goods. But the law requires producers to include them as a safety precaution. Jokingly, she added, “Condensed milk will probably outlive the human race.”

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