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Food safety guidelines

It is very significant for all of us to understand the food safety principles. Clean and safe food is what ultimately determines our health and wellness!

Modern-day chemicals and heavy-metals rather pose a more serious threat to our health than insects, and microbes do. Just for example, certain heavy metals in the food can enter and accumulate inside our body in such a significant quantities that over the period of time might damage our immune system, can be the reason for cancers, impair nervous system function and can cause genetic abnormalities in the offspring through genetic mutation.

food safety guidelines
Food safety guidelines logo. Photo courtesy: USDA.gov

Various types of hazardous chemicals and heavy metals finally enter nearby water sources and contaminate the soil that is meant for crop cultivation. This is a common scenerio in some developing countries where water treatment facilities are in primitive conditions. Harmful chemicals such as DDT, pestcides/insecticides like Endosulfan and heavy metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium, etc., can easily gain access and embed deep inside the cells of vegetables, fruits, cereals and pulses that we consume everyday.

Since humans mostly standing at the end of the food chain, much of these toxic compounds may ultimately enter our body, directly or indirectly. And here is the catch! Larger insects/worms on the vegetable surface would be easily identified and removed, while micro organisms like bacteria, virus, and ova/cysts can be destroyed by cooking at high-temperatures. But, how do you rid off chemicals and toxins that reside permanently in the food we consume?

Unfortunately, we yet to figure out any effective measures, if at all, to keep these harmful and dangerous substances at bay. Modern scientific community yet to bring out any effctive technique that could filter out these chemical compounds However, some of the health risks can at least be minimized by adopting efficient food-safety principles at every stage, beginning right from handling of food ingredients, to its selection from authentic source, proper processing, storage, preparation, and consumption.

Food Selection

Food selection is certainly a challenging job; however, it is the most crucial first step towards ensuring food safety. Quite a number of factors influence in this process, and therefore, need to be kept in the mind while planning for purchasing a food item. Check for its origin (organic farming or chemicals-treated), methods applied during its harvesting, transportation and marketing, geography, local availability, purchasing power of the person or family, individual interest, etc. A reasonable level of knowledge regarding food items is essential since many food-borne diseases ranging from minor food poisoning to serious cancers have been attributed to the kind of food we consume.

Here are some of the important tips to avoid wrong food selection:

  1. Always buy fresh, seasonal vegetables, and fruits grown at nearby organic farms.

  2. Avoid food items from crop fields irrigated with sewage water sources or polluted rivers.

  3. Buy cereals and pulses from authentic organic farming sources.

  4. Milk and its products should be obtained from healthy livestock.

  5. Poultry products and meat should be procured from certified healthy animal farms.

  6. Try to buy fresh fish from deep water sources as water ponds and most of the rivers are polluted.

  7. Try to avoid take-away foods as it is difficult to verify their authenticity.

Storage of food items

food storage guidelines
Food storage. Photo courtesy: USDA.gov

Next, it is also important to store food items as it should remain fresh and nourishing until we consume. Improper storage would deprive food items of their nutritive value, taste and may make it vulnerable for microbes and insects attack.

Here are some strategies of proper food storage:

  1. Always wash vegetables and fruits thoroughly in cold running water and then soak in salt water for about 30 minutes before sorting and storing them inside the refrigerator.

  2. Use vegetables (especially green-leaf) and fruits (banana, berries, grapes) with a short shelf life as early as possible.

  3. Keep poultry items and meat inside the freezer compartment of the refrigerator.

  4. Do not thaw food items open in the kitchen, and outdoors. Thaw food in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave.

  5. Keep cereals and pulses in air-tight boxes or bags since they attract flies and insects if kept open.

Food processing

Processing of food should be done meticulously although it demands time and patience; food safety is your priority. Right! Preparation of food should be done with a plan regarding time, cost, variety, and number of people to cook.

  1. Food items, especially fruits and vegetables should be washed in clean running water to remove surface dirt, chemicals and microbes. Cut items should not be washed as it results in loss of nutrients.

  2. Soaking cereals, pulses and beans in clean water for at least 30 minutes before cooking helps to initiate enzymatic activity, increases nutritive value, digestibility and decreases cooking time and saves energy. Germination (sprouting) of cereals and pulses increase their nutritive value by enrichment of vitamins and enzymes.

  3. Vegetables should be cut just before cooking, and wherever permitted, should be used without peeling as it results in loss of nutrients and fiber.

  4. Cook food in clean utensils preferably under steam pressure. This saves time, energy and preserves food items of their nutrients.

  5. Try to avoid frying of foods. Frying requires oil and more heat. Deep frying at higher temperatures produces harmful chemicals and convert oil to unhealthy trans fats.

  6. Here are some tips for safe frying;

    1. Use vegetable oils like olive, or soybean which are low in saturated fats. Try to avoid butter, animal fat, and hydrogenated fats.

    2. Use small amount of oil and do not reuse it for cooking. If frying requires more oil, then add fresh oil in small increments to replace the oil used up while frying.

    3. Set the right temperature before putting food items for frying. Stir repeatedly while frying.

    4. Sauteing, using tomato or soy sauce as a base greatly reduces the cooking oil requirement.

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References: U.S. Department of Agriculure-Food Safety guideline.

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