Saturday 25 November 2017

Food hygiene: Waving nasty bugs goodbye

Safety starts in the home, with good hygiene practices vital, especially in relation to the preparation of and cooking of food. Bernice Mulligan reports

ACCORDING to David McCleery, chief specialist microbiologist at Safefood, the national body for the promotion of food safety and healthy eating, young children are one of the main categories at risk from slapdash standards of hygiene in the home.

" Children are so physically small and their systems are still developing, which means they are much more susceptible to dangerous bugs lurking in food or in the home."

McCleery emphasises how critical it is to instill good standards of hygiene in your child from a young age. " Handwashing is so important and children need to know how to do this properly as early as possible, certainly from when they start toilet training."

Despite the marketing hype, he says special antibacterial soaps aren't necessary and are usually only required in a healthcare setting or when caring for a sick person.

Regular soap suffices perfectly and children should learn how to lather their hands well, then wash off and dry thoroughly using a clean towel. This should help prevent the spread of dangerous bugs such as E. coli, says McCleery.

In terms of food safety, certain foods pose a higher risk.

"Undercooked eggs are dangerous as are semi-cooked chicken and burgers. It is also vital to thoroughly wash and scrub raw fruit, vegetables and salad under running water to remove dangerous bacteria."

He places huge emphasis on safe meat preparation.

"It is absolutely vital that there is a clear break between handling raw and cooked meat," says McCleery.

"Anything that has touched raw meat, for example a chopping board, utensils, etc, must be thoroughly washed and dried before coming into contact with cooked food.

"This may seem obvious but we conducted research recently that revealed many people do not do this: they placed cooked chicken onto the same board they used to chop it up on when raw without washing the board fi rst."

In relation to meat such as chicken, burgers and mince in general, it is also essential that the meat is completely cooked through.

"There should be no pink bits, otherwise there is a risk of E. coli or other bugs remaining in the meat."

McCleery says that food poisoning can be very severe in young children.

"Dehydration can be a huge factor from vomiting and diarrhoea. Severe forms of food poisoning such as E. coli can cause very serious symptoms. If you suspect you or anyone in your family has food poisoning, my advice is to contact a doctor immediately."

A THOROUGH WASH

Currently Europe is still reeling from the after-effects of the E. coli breakout.

"It would be terrible if parents stopped feeding their children vegetables or fruit based on concerns about this outbreak, especially since there is no evidence of it having travelled to Ireland," says McCleery.

"The main thing to remember with fruit or vegetables is to wash them thoroughly under running water, giving them a good scrub if needs be, and peeling them if you want to be extra safe. Of course, cooking fruit and vegetables will kill any germs that might be present so this is another option."

Plus, now that we're into barbecue season, there's an added element of vigilance needed in terms of food safety.

"First off, make sure the person barbecuing on the day has adequate food skills.

"Because barbecues take place outside, you are away from the sink and handwashing facilities so you need to be organised. Have a basin of water, soap and hand towels or some wipes nearby if you can't nip back into the kitchen easily.

"Have a cool box for uncooked meats, and have a system on the barbecue: ie cook from the left, moving the meat along to the right as it cooks."

He also advises having the barbecue at the right temperature so that the food doesn't burn on the outside while remaining uncooked in the middle.

" Before serving meat to anybody cut it in the middle to make sure it's cooked thoroughly. Make sure the juices run clear, and that there are no pink bits.

"Also if you are attending a barbecue and see pink bits in your own or your children's burger, do not be embarrassed to ask for it to be cooked a bit further. The most important thing is to protect your family's health," McCleery affi rms.

FOR LOTS MORE TIPS ON FOOD HYGIENE TIPS SEE WWW.SAFEFOOD.EU.

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