‘I think it was something I ate…’
How often have we heard this said, or said it ourselves, when a sudden stomach upset makes us feel unwell? However, the Food Standards Agency says, ‘It’s natural to suspect the thing you ate most recently would be the cause of food poisoning, but that isn’t always the case. Symptoms usually take between one and three days to develop, so it won’t necessarily be from the last thing you ate.’
Most people who have travelled extensively can recall an unpleasant food poisoning experience that put them out of action for a couple of days—that salad in Egypt, that kebab in Morocco, the occurrences may be rare but you certainly know it when it happens. Closer to home, there can be similar instances in our own kitchens if we don’t take careful but commonsense precautions.
Meat prep and cooking times
In recent months, there has been a serious food safety concern regarding chicken containing potentially lethal bacteria known as campylobacter. With producers having since been required to take measures to reduce the contamination of chicken meat, risks still exist for anyone who eats chicken that has not been thoroughly cooked. Food experts also advise against the practise of washing raw chicken at the kitchen sink before cooking, the concern being that water splashed from the chicken meat onto work surfaces will only spread any existing bacteria. So, the best advice is to cook your chicken thoroughly. If you like to fry your chicken Kentucky-style, then finish off by placing the fried pieces in a hot (200°C) oven for 10 minutes. For your roast chicken, use a timer and make sure you roast at the correct temperature for the correct length of time, according to the weight of the prepared chicken. The BBC Good Food website offers a ‘Roast timer’ calculator (http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/tools/roast-timer), where, for example, a 2kg chicken roasting time is recommended as follows: 200°C/fan 180c/gas 6 for first 20 minutes. Then 180C/fan 160C/gas 4 for next 1 hour 20 minutes.
The same rules apply particularly for the roasting of turkey and joints of pork, neither of which should ever be served undercooked or rare. Although many of us like our lamb pink and our steaks rare or medium-rare, yet beef burgers should not be served pink in the middle. Unlike steaks, burgers and sausages are made from meat that has been minced, so germs will be spread throughout the product and not just on the surface. This means these products need to be properly cooked all the way through. To check if a burger is done, cut into the thickest part and check there is no pink meat, it is steaming hot and juices are clear.
In the preparation of meat of all kinds in the kitchen, use a thoroughly clean chopping board. Many chefs and amateur cooks prefer plastic boards for hygienic reasons, although the Food Standards Agency comment on this is as follows: ‘There isn’t any strong evidence that one type of chopping board is more or less hygienic than another, whether plastic, wooden, glass or even marble. What is important is that the board gets cleaned properly after every use and is replaced if it gets damaged, for example from deep cuts or scoring. You could also use separate chopping boards for raw and ready-to-eat foods.’
In the fridge
When you’re in a rush, it’s easy to stuff any-old-how raw and cooked meats, veg, etc., into the fridge without much thought. But in this way, cross-contamination is the biggest threat to our wellbeing, especially where cooked and raw meats are concerned. It’s vital to keep these products separate, in plastic bags or wrapped in Clingfilm, to be sure of avoiding cross-contamination.
However rushed we are, we must also avoid cooking any meat, meat products or chicken that are only partially defrosted: either allow plenty of time for defrosting from the freezer to the fridge, or use the correct defrost setting on the microwave.
The dates given on fresh food packaging—‘best before’ and ‘use by’—are sometimes disregarded and consumed with no ill effects. However, sound advice on the topic comes once again from the Government’s Food Standard Agency, as follows:
‘“Best before” dates are about food quality not safety. They are usually found on food that lasts a long time. If food has passed its ‘best before’ date it doesn’t mean it’s unsafe, but it might have started to lose its colour, flavour, or texture.
‘A “use by” date tells you how long food will stay safe. They have to be put on food that “goes off” quickly—and they aren’t just guesswork, the dates are worked out by scientific testing. Don’t be tempted to eat food after the “use by” date on the label, even if it looks and smells fine.’
SEE MORE: Dee Thresher’s Diet Tips