Nausea, vomiting and stomach pain are three classic symptoms of food poisoning. A recent study by the World Health Organization (WHO) demonstrated that 58% of these conditions happen at home due to poor food handling, eating too much junk food and even storing things incorrectly in the refrigerator.
Eating spoiled food can cause illnesses that the WHO defines as food borne illness. Food borne illnesses are caused by spoiled food or contaminated drinking water.
The book "Microbial Contamination of Street-Vended Foods," edited by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), points out that improper handling of food produces one of the most powerful living things--bacteria. It only takes a couple of hours for two million bacteria--a real colony--to develop in food that was improperly defrosted, kept in a warm place or left outside the refrigerator.
These mistakes account for many instances of food poisoning in the home. The main causes of food borne illnesses are:
- Incorrectly cooling food. It's a myth that you have to let food cool completely before you store it. This creates a bacterial breeding ground.
- Under-cooking food.
- Storing things incorrectly in the refrigerator.
- Not cleaning vegetables and raw foods well.
- Waiting to serve recently-prepared food.
- Storing foods improperly and letting them go bad in the freezer.
All these, together with the rise of fast food and delivery food (that often arrives cold), are the causes of so much discomfort.
So experts explain how to avoid this kind of food poisoning, emphasizing that it comes down to learning some basic things, such as:
In the supermarket:
- Put bottles and cleaning products under everything else in the shopping cart.
- Put canned foods in the middle.
- Put frozen foods, meats, dairy foods, fruits and vegetables on top.
- Always look at "use by" dates, as even big supermarket chains can carry food that has spoiled.
In the refrigerator:
- Keep cooked foods in closed containers in the lower part of the refrigerator.
- On the next level keep meats.
- On the top shelf keep dairy products.
- Never re-freeze thawed foods.
In the kitchen:
- Cook foods. Raw products may be contaminated with pathogens, which happened recently with a brand of bagged raw spinach in a few U.S. cities.
- Eat cooked foods immediately. Microbes grow when food is allowed to cool at room temperature.
- Reheat foods well.
- Avoid contact between raw and cooked foods.
- Wash your hands before handling foods.
- Cover cooked foods to keep away insects.
According to the PAHO report, the advent of supermarkets located inside malls gave rise to another food poisoning factor. Between 70 and 80% of shoppers buy food in the supermarket, then leave their groceries in the trunk and go off to do more shopping. When these foods finally make it home to the refrigerator, the bacteria are jumping for joy.
To minimize cases of foodborne illness, effective controls are needed from the point at which products are distributed to the time they reach your table. Three things are required: monitor producers, train those who handle food, and educate people so that bacteria don't end up being smarter than human beings. And at this point you have a key role, as good food handling means ensuring your family's health.
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