Food safety

In the past decade, food poisoning seems to have hit the headlines with disturbing frequency. The serious outbreaks and one-off tragedies have had a positive outcome: an increased awareness of the importance of food hygiene, improved labelling regarding shelf-life, and more attention focused on the way our food is produced.

The ironic fact is that as hygiene has improved over time, it is precisely our good health that makes us more prone to serious bouts of food poisoning than our forebears, In the distant past it was quite common for children to suffer from gastro-enteritis, vomiting and diarrhea, but now if a hundred people go down with the same symptoms there is an outcry. I regularly stress to parents that keeping their child in a sterile’, artificially clean environment means their exposure to bacteria and viruses is limited, so they are less likely to build up immunity and more prone to succumb to food poisoning as they grow up.

Modern society must accept some responsibility for the outbreaks of E. poisoning, listeriosis, salmonellosis, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease the human form of ‘mad cow disease or bovine spongiform encephalitis, We are used to having everything we want in the shops throughout the year and at a very cheap price, which can place some food producers under so much pressure to deliver the goods that they have been tempted to cut corners.

While I am strongly in favor of tightening standards in the food production industry, there is a down side. Certain traditional foods have disappeared because of over cautious food hygiene legislation. In Britain, only a handful of cheese producers still use unpasteurized milk: all the others have succumbed to pressure fan their biggest customers, the supermarkets, to pasteurize. Pasteurization does not make cheese safe to eat, the issues are slightly more complex

Modern Farming and food manufacturing methods have a lot to answer for, but so do we, the consumers. To the surprise of many people, most cases of food poisoning occur through food and equipment being mishandled at home.

 Shelf-life dares

Nearly all foods have to be marked with a date up to which the food can reason ably be expected to retain its specific properties, if stored properly. The time that any food will keep in good condition depends largely on the moisture level within the food and the storage temperature. Where storage temperature is important, food producers will be very cautious about the life they claim for the food. It is important that you understand the significance of the dates, that you can eat foods at their best and avoid exposing your body to food

poisoning organisms. This is vital when you are feeling under the weather or suffering from a medical condition which taxes your immune system, be it an infection such as a cold, or cancer. Strong fit people can normally fight a bour of food poisoning, but elderly people and children don’t fare as well, because their bodies are not as well equipped to fight infection. It amazes me that some of my patients don’t seem to understand that food poisoning can kill you.

The only group of people who tend to take the issue seriously are pregnant women, who realize that it is not only their health, but also their baby’s health that is at risk. The first rule of avoiding food poisoning is to abide by the dates on the label, Certain foods are exempt from date labelling, including foods that are not pre packed, foods that have a shelf-life of longer than 18 months, eggs. fresh fruits and vegetables (unless they are pre-prepared), frozen foods and ice cream (which carry a star marking), breads and cakes which are intended to be eaten within 24 hours.

However, many food manufacturers choose to put a date on the label. to guide either the person selling or buying the food • The sell by date is to let the retailer know when to remove food from the shelves. The majority of foods are perfectly safe to eat after the sell by date. • The use by’ date provides you with a guide as to when the food is at a low level of contamination. It is usually seen on foods that perish from micro biological damage relatively easily, in other words they go off quite quickly. They are perfectly safe to eat up to and including the use by date.

Although food manufacturers generally cry on the side of caution, chiefly because they are not sure how cold your refrigerator or larder is, you shouldn’t eat foods after their use by date. Fridges should be kept between 0 and 5°C-it might be a good idea to buy a fridge thermometer.

• Best before’ dates are found on foods with an expected life of six to twelve weeks. These foods rarely expose you to any food poisoning risk, but this date gives you an idea of when the food tastes at its best. Food with an expected shelf-life of more than 18 months doesn’t have to carry any date. However, the food manufacturer is legally bound to tell you whether there are any special storage conditions you need to adhere to.

 Hygiene in the home

In addition to paying attention to food dates and labels there are other steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of developing food poisoning.

• Wash your hands carefully after you have touched any animal or used the lavatory • Keep work surfaces clean and wash tea towels regularly • Make sure that meat and poultry are cooked appropriately before you eat them, Rare meat is fine for nose people, as long as you are certain that the meat is fresh and of superb quality, Poultry, however, should always be well cooked, with no trace of pink.

Wash all fruits and vegetables before you eat them. • Always keep cooked and raw foods separately in the refrigerator, so that the bacteria from raw foods do not infect cooked foods.

• Use separate chopping boards for raw and cooked meat and fish and another for vegetables and fruits (or mark separate sides of two chopping boards).

• Avoid tins with blown ends as this could, even if only rarely, signify the presence of the bacterium that causes botulism.

• If cooked food is to be kept, it must be cooled as quickly as possible, then, when it is cold, wrapped and refrigerated. Always reheat cooked rice until it is piping hot. found in rice that has been cooked and left in a warmish environment, then not thoroughly reheated.If you eat rice dishes in restaurants, make sure that it is piping hot all the way through, as more cases of food poisoning come from rice than from any other food. 

Washing and peeling

It is particularly important to wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly, not only to reduce the risk of food poisoning, but also to remove the pesticides, waxes and other substances used to protect them. If not removed, these substances can lead to free radical damage within the body’s cells, which can cause cancer and heart disease and have been linked to other health problems.

I Recommend you buy organic food as much as possible, as it is produced without the use of chemical pesticides, fertilizers and other artificial substances, organic produce should be washed to remove dirt Some people recommend that you peel fruits for children, as they believe you cannot remove the harmful substances by washing alone.

I think children should be perfectly safe eating washed fresh fruits and vegetables and indeed we should be encouraging them to do so, for a number of health reasons. Just make sure you wash produce carefully, especially when you buy from street markets, which are exposed to exhaust Furness.

Avoiding risks LISTERIA

is the full name of the bacterium which causes listeriosis, a potentially harmful condition? It produces flu like’ symptoms, but can cause miscarriage in pregnant women, or can damage the unborn child. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misunderstanding about listeria bacteria, which are particularly dangerous because they can grow at refrigeration temperatures, unlike most food poisoning organisms. . In fact, cases were traced to a soft cheese made from pasteurized milk,

The outer molds of cheeses act to some extent as a protective bandage, keeping bad bacteria from adversely affectingthe inside of the cheese Cutting away the white rind just before you eat the cheese should remove any potentially harmful bacteria. Softer, moister cheeses, including blue cheeses, are most likely to provide a breeding ground for listeria;

soft cheeses without rinds are the most vulnerable. Unpasteurized hard cheeses that have been matured for nine months or more are virtually problem-free for pregnant women Other foods that have a greater than-average risk of listeria infection are pâtés, salad vegetables such as lettuce and prepared salads such as coleslaw and potato salad. Pregnant women should also avoid soft whip ice cream. Readymade chilled foods should be thoroughly reheated: be especially careful if you are using a microwave oven.


Salmonella thrives in foods that are insufficiently heated to all the bacteria, particularly eggs, poultry and unpasteurized milk. It causes diarrhea and vomiting, and possibly fever and headache, 12 to 48 hours after eating the infected food, and in rare cases has proved foul. The very young and elderly, pregnant women and people recovering from an illness, whose immune systems are not working at full strength, are particularly vulnerable and should be treated by a doctor immediately.

To avoid salmonella poisoning, steer clear of foods containing raw and lightly cooked eggs, such as mayonnaise and some sauces and mousses. Egg dishes should be freshly and thoroughly cooked. All poultry and meat should be well cooked. Take extra care at parties, where food is left in warm rooms and the bacteria grow quickly.


Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a parasite; it is not transferred from person to person. It is harmless to most adults, but if caught during pregnancy it can cause miscarriage or damage to the baby in the womb. It can only be diagnosed by a blood test, but sadly the symptoms don’t usually appear until two to three weeks after contracting the disease. The symptoms, described as “mild flu like’, may include a slight fever, swollen glands, fatigue or a rash.

The bacterium lives in cats for about three weeks, but cats’ faces can remain infectious for up to eighteen months Toxoplasmosis can be transmitted through the soul to other animals such as dogs. In addition to the basic rules of hygiene will help pregnant women avoid toxoplasmosis Avoid eating undercooked or raw meat, such as steak tartare, as these can harbor bacteria. Don’t feed raw meat to your cats or dogs as this provides A route for infection. Make sure meat id poultry are well cooked before you ear the. Do not allow cat litter near food Wear rubber gloves to clean up pet ness.