How to avoid food poisoning
Discover the Food Standards Agency's food safety tips including how to freeze and defrost food, how to prepare vegetables and how to organise your fridge.
Can a cluttered fridge pose a risk to your health? What's the safest way to defrost frozen food? Even seemingly innocuous foods such as salad need to be prepared properly. We asked the FSA to share their top tips for food hygiene and here's what they said...
Top tips to avoid food poisoning
If you're eating at home, you can do the following:
- Wash your hands with warm water and soap before and after handling food, after going to the toilet, handling pets or touching the bin.
- Keep raw and ready-to-eat foods separate at all times.
- Always eat food within its use-by date (or freeze by the use-by date).
- Store food according to the instructions (for example some foods need to be kept chilled below 5°C) and consume within the recommended timeframe once opened (this is usually within 2 days).
- Regularly wash down all food preparation areas using soap and hot water, especially after preparing raw foods.
- Keep pets out of the kitchen when food is being prepared. If pets come into the kitchen clean afterwards where necessary.
- Don’t leave opened food or cooked food standing at room temperature for longer than 2 hours (1 hour for rice or rice-based dishes).
- Always ensure all cooked foods have been thoroughly cooked through.
- If reheating foods, it's important to ensure that you also reheat these thoroughly.
- Avoid handling or preparing food if you're unwell; give the responsibility to someone who is well.
If you're eating out, we recommend checking the restaurant’s food hygiene rating on the FSA's website.
What is the best way to clean and prepare vegetables?
It's always advisable to wash vegetables before eating them. Some vegetables, particularly root vegetables, can be sold with a small amount of soil on them. It's important to wash off as much of the soil particles as possible because they can carry dangerous bacteria. If vegetables are cooked properly any bacteria present will be killed, but if you're eating the vegetables raw (e.g. carrots), in addition to washing, peeling the skin off can also help to lower the risk.
Where should we store different foods in the fridge?
A good rule to follow is to ensure raw and ready-to-eat foods are stored separately from one another. Raw meat and poultry should be stored covered on the bottom shelf of the fridge as this will prevent raw meat juices from spilling on to foods below. This bottom shelf offers the necessary protection as it is often made of solid glass, preventing any spills from seeping down on to other foods. It should also be the coldest part of the fridge which is highly effective for storing meat in. Ready-to-eat foods such as cheese and cooked meats can be stored on the top shelves. Some of the modern style fridges include a number of different trays and we recommend that you check to see what the manufacturer's guide advises.
How should we store food in the fridge?
It all depends on the food type or particular product. If you’ve opened something and are unable to seal it back up in its original packaging (for example, cooked ham) you should cover it in cling film or transfer it to an airtight container. Raw meats can be stored in their original packaging on the bottom shelf of the fridge. If they're not in their original packaging, keep them in a drip-proof bowl or container and cover. It's also important to ensure cooked foods, including leftovers, are covered. Store unopened cans in the cupboard as this will give you more room in the fridge. If your fridge isn’t cluttered, cold air will circulate around your fridge more effectively.
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How can we defrost food safely?
The safest way to defrost food safely is to place it in an appropriately-sized container or drip-proof plate/tray and put on the bottom shelf of the fridge. If the food is in its original packaging there is no harm in keeping it this way, although it may take a little longer to defrost. Food should be thoroughly defrosted before it’s cooked to ensure all ice crystals are removed. If you need to cook something quickly, it can be defrosted in the microwave.
How long can we freeze food for safely?
If you want to freeze food you have made yourself, for best quality, food should be kept in the freezer for no longer than 3-6 months. Any longer than this and the quality of the food starts to deteriorate. If you buy frozen food, follow the instructions about storage on the packet.
Do you have any questions about avoiding food poisoning? Let us know in the comments below...
This article was published on 14th December 2016.
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