Preparing food safely

Last week while I was preparing my Short Stories, I realised that I might have stepped on the “proverbial toes” of some of the wives, mothers, and grandmothers who, during the next two weeks, will begin the awesome task of preparing all of the traditional meals expected by all on Christmas Day.

In this regard, to all of you, please note that my recipe can in no way be compared to yours for quality or historical importance. However, I am sure that there are some of you who will admit that at least one of your guests will make sure that they eat some large portions of everything in front of them and pay the price the next day.

The result will be what I call “Collywobbles”; some of them may experience just the “Colly”, while others may experience just the “Wobbles”.

Last week I also said that some of the island’s best chefs had recommended that my special “holiday recipe” should not be prepared due to its very harsh side effects, but as usual, “people who can’t hear does feel”. The recipe was prepared and tried, with the expected results not pleasantly digested by those who decided to ignore the recommendations of the island’s best.

Food safety consumption at this time of the year will be on the minds of many, even though there may have been some who would have experience allergic reactions to an item on the menu, and others who may have been actually sickened by some foods; the quality of food prepared in Barbados still remains relatively safe, according to health and medical officials.

No one wants to be sick at Christmas. Even more traumatising would be to spend the entire Christmas period in hospital due to either food poisoning or a severe allergic reaction. Against the background of the Christmas rush I would like to recommend that you consider the following to ensure that you do not hear any moans and groans the following morning.

1. Prevent contaminating food with pathogens spreading from people, pets, and pests. The majority of open-air mass crowd events do not lend themselves to maximum safety when either producing or consuming food products. Boxing Day picnickers and Old Year’s Night revellers need to pay some attention to food handling during this holiday season.

But as is usually the case, they are either too hungry to worry about how it was prepared, or it is too hot; and that there is not much time during purchase to really examine where you are getting it from. On weekends, the same principle applies, except that you have a little more time to decide where and from whom you plan to get your food.

Most families either have dogs, cats, or birds or a combination of all three, which have free rein throughout the home, and the risk of food contamination from these pets increases, based on where these pets are located in relation to the kitchen.

Bird droppings from caged birds can dry and become airborne if the cages are not cleaned regularly; thereby increasing the risk of contamination from the particulate. If the prevalence of pests is not controlled, then the risk further increases.

2. Separate raw and cooked foods to prevent contaminating the cooked foods. Most households do not consider that egg shells left on the side of the sink or near the cutting board will cause a problem while preparing the Christmas meal. The reason being that the majority of people do not consider cross contamination of raw and cooked foods. Neither do they consider that the residue from egg shells can be a primary source for contamination.

What is perceived therefore is that “everything in my kitchen is clean so why worry unnecessarily”? The old adage of “not eating from everybody” is the best approach. However, health officials worldwide have concluded that one of most common sources of food poisoning or illnesses comes directly from the household kitchen.

3. Cook foods for the appropriate length of time and at the appropriate temperature to kill pathogens. There are likely to be many people again this year who, while under the pretext of being “in a hurry” to get to Midnight Mass and Queen’s Park, will not always follow this rule.

If it looks cooked, then it is cooked. The danger in this is that all too often this habit leads to an illness in which the blame is placed at the feet of everybody else rather that the home itself. Once again the same excuse covers the mistakes made in the home.

4. Store food at the proper temperature. Power failures or mechanical problems will happen regardless of the occasion. Every time there is a power failure, or a problem develops with the freezer, even for a short while, the contents will automatically experience a change in temperature. The length of the temperature change will dictate how long that food will remain safe for human consumption.

Once more, most households will admit that as long the items remain “hard” or does not appear to be “a little runny”, “then there is no reason to worry”. The next morning you will hear in some households the moans of “Oh my poor stomach!”

“Little room here I come with the morning newspaper!”

5. Use safe water and raw materials. There have not been any claims of food borne illnesses being attributed to the quality of water in Barbados. Health officials however have stated that water, if left exposed to the general environment can be subject to contamination.

Water in itself can breakdown in purity in the “right conditions” and become unsafe for drinking. An example of this can be found in storage tanks in which the water is left standing for long periods without the appropriate treatment to maintain its purity and quality.

There have also been confirmed isolated claims regarding the quality of some raw materials purchased for consumption. Health officials also state that raw materials when prepared in poor hygienic conditions, if left unresolved, can lead to the immediate occurrence of food borne illnesses.

In summary I am recommending these quick protective steps which, in my opinion, will help you avoid the traumatic experience of “collywobbles” this Christmas Season:

1. Wash all food products purchased in any supermarket or any wayside vendor;

2. Check the seals and bottle covers of all products purchased;

3. Examine meats for odours and colour which may show visible signs of deterioration;

4. Be careful when purchasing meats products that appear to be too bloody or contain too much liquid in the packaging;

5. Do not purchase frozen products such as ice cream that appear to be too soft, melting, or liquefying;

6. Wash the shells of all eggs before breaking them open, as they may still retain microscopic bacteria;

7. Do not leave broken egg shells near open meat products, as there may be cross-contamination between the two items;

8. Do not purchase canned foods that show signs of crushing or rust on the exterior. Also, be sure to wash the canned product since they may have been subject to exposure to the dropping of vermin;

9. Be sure to sanitise all kitchen counters and cutting boards with soap and hot water after using meat products. This helps ensure control of bacteria and other enzymes.

Finally, please do not include the ingredients of “Overindulgence of the Bubbly” while served with a large portion “Speeding” because you will create an unforgettable-tasting dessert of tears and remorse the next day.

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