Preventing food contamination: 5 ways to ensure food safety

Jodesz Gavilan
Preventing food contamination: 5 ways to ensure food safety
Food contamination puts a lot of people at risk but it can be prevented by knowledge about proper food handling

MANILA, Philippines – A person needs food as it contains the required nutrients needed to function effectively. However, if not handled properly, it can result in serious health risks.

Food-borne diseases are infections of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. These happen when one consumes food or beverages contaminated with harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites, and chemicals. 

Although some of these diseases happen only in a short period, it cannot be denied that there are cases that may lead to more serious complications.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that about 1.8 million people die annually due to diarrheal diseases which are attributed to contaminated food and water. (READ: Asia grapples with food safety as incomes rise)

In the Philippines, statistics from the Department of Health (DOH) list diarrheas and gastroenteritis in the top 10 leading causes of child deaths – especially in the age bracket of one to 4 years old. 

Stop contamination

Food contamination – coloquially called food poisoning – is indeed a public health issue. However, it is preventable if one maintains high standards when handling food. 

Republic Act No. 10611 or the Food Safety Act of 2013 aims to protect consumer health by strengthening the food safety regulation system by monitoring and preventing “unsanitary, unwholesome, misbranded, and adulterated foods” from reaching the public. (READ: ‘Food safety critical to PH future’)

At the household level, food contamination can be prevented if the person assigned in the family to handle food adopts hygienic practices.

According to WHO, any individual can ensure food hygiene and prevent food contamination by following the 5 keys to safe food: 

1. Keep clean

Aside from ensuring the cleanliness of the food, it is also important to make sure that personal hygiene is followed. One must clean his or her hands before, during, and after preparing meals. 

It is also important to properly sanitize all surfaces and equipment necessary in food preparation. This is to prevent any dangerous microorganisms from contaminating the materials used. 

Make sure that there are no harmful chemicals in the vicinity of the kitchen area. If it cannot be helped, just be sure to clearly label these chemicals to avoid them being mistaken for any other product. 

2. Separate raw and cooked

The juices of raw food – meat, poultry, and seafood – often contain harmful microorganisms. These may be transferred to other food during preparation and even when stored.

It is important to separate them from other food types to prevent cross-contamination. They can be kept in storages tailored for such type of food. 

In addition, utensils such as knives and cutting boards used in handling raw food should also be sanitized before being used again. If you can afford it, it is suggested that you buy another set for another purpose, such as storing cooked pieces of meat.

3. Cook thoroughly

Proper cooking is one way to “kill” all possible harmful microorganisms in raw food. To be successful in eliminating the dangerous components, it is important to maintain a temperature of 70 degrees Celsius as it can help ensure the cooked food is safe for consumption. 

When cooking soup, it is safe for it to boil to ensure it has reached the required temperature. When it comes to meat, make sure there are no visible “juices” and no trace of pink anymore. It is recommended to use a thermometer.

According to WHO, the type of food that needs special attention when cooking are: minced meats, large joints of meat, and even whole piece of poultry.

4. Keep food at safe temperatures

In some cases, microorganisms can reproduce and spread quickly at room temperature. The safest way to store food is in temperatures below 5 degrees Celsius and above 60 degrees Celsius as the growth can be slowed down or better yet, stopped. 

It is best not to leave food at room temperature for more than two hours. If not consumed, cooked and perishable food should be refrigerated immediately.

Meanwhile, it is important to serve food piping hot (or above 60 degrees Celsius) to ensure that it is properly cooked and free of bad microorganisms.

5. Use safe water and raw materials

It is easy to contaminate water and raw materials with harmful microorganisms and chemicals. One should be mindful and use safe water and raw materials in either cooking or consuming food.

If unsure, it is best to treat the water first by either boiling or cleaning using filters. Meanwhile, raw fruits and vegetables should be checked for bruises or molds. If these are minimal, it can be removed by cutting the part off. 

In addition, expired food should not be consumed anymore. It should be thrown away when the expiration date has passed as it can contribute to health risks for the entire family. 

Access to proper food needed

Preventing food contamination is easy as being alert and conscious of the harm of unsanitary food handling are the only skills one needs. 

However, it is undeniable that there are Filipinos who have problems in accessing safe water, in addition to not having adequate food. The lack of options leave them with nothing but diseases: malnutrition, diarrhea, and other food-borne illnesses. (READ: A thirsty world and the PH water problem ) –

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Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.