Be prepared in the fight against food poisoning
Food poisoning was thrust back into headlines last week when inspectors in Abu Dhabi discovered staff in some outlets were turning fridges off overnight to save cash.
The problem has never been far from public consciousness in the UAE, with food poisoning suspected in a series of child deaths in recent years.
In the home though, if we are careful and diligent, it is possible to create a fortress to fend off contamination. When readying for battle, specific conditions to the UAE need to be considered, such as soaring temperatures or the hygiene standards of your flatmates, as well as your own.
Dr Ghulam Narou, a senior specialist with the Dubai Health Authority warns that when it is 45C outside, our trips back from supermarkets must be brief.
“Meat should not be kept in any hot place - it should not be more than hour before it is refrigerated,” he says. He suggests taking a cool box to the supermarket to allow for traffic delays on the way home.
“If it takes longer than an hour, at least if you have the ice packets it’ll be safer,” he advises. “Separate the meat into a different bag, tie it and keep the ice cubes in with the meat.”
Here’s some expert advice to help your family stay safe while enjoying food:
The date game
The ‘Use By’ date is the safe limit when food can be eaten and the ‘Best Before’ date means the food is at its best before the given date, if it has been stored properly. Dr Melita Gordon, a consultant gastroenterologist, warns that with eggs, it may be wise to adhere to the ‘Best Before’ date rather than the ‘Use By’ date.
“It wouldn’t be a good idea to go too far beyond the ‘Best Before’ date for eggs,” Gordon advises. ‘Display Until’ dates are for store owners and are not meant to indicate the final consumption date.
Cook it through
Food from animal sources, such as raw meat and poultry, carry the biggest risk of poisoning, but cooking kills most bacteria in them. Thorough cooking is essential. A chicken’s irregular shape - think of all those nooks and crannies in which bacteria can hide - is part of the reason you have to be extra careful with it. Dr Gordon says chicken should be cooked through in the oven before putting it on a barbecue, for example.
Sniffing it out
You won’t always know what’s good for you just by smelling it, warns UK food safety expert Bob Martin.
“Very often, food like milk will go off and it’s obvious from the smell,” says Martin. “But other milk products, like clotted cream and yoghurt, may look and smell OK but there could be dangerous bugs that have grown in there. There’s no smell, colour or taste.”
Don’t get cross, get clean
Even after thorough cooking, foods can be cross-contaminated by other ingredients, so chopping boards should be kept clean. The danger of cross-contamination is worse in shared accommodation, explains the DHA’s Dr Ghulam.
“When we take the history of the patient, they often say ‘No, there’s no unhygienic conditions.’ However, we find they have a new housemate and are not aware of how they prepare food.”
Just don’t forget your own hygiene, warns Martin, a food safety expert at the Food Standards Agency.
“Remember to wash hands regularly so you’re not swapping contamination from one food to another. Washing hands is effective against food poisoning - more so than people realise.”