Food Safety 101
Any time you eat leftovers, there is the risk that you end up writhing around on the floor exploding your insides out from both ends. Or worse. In 1999 20 Canadians died of food poisoning, that we know of. More likely were misdiagnosed. Every year 15%-30% of Canadians get food poisoning. Considering it often goes unreported or misdiagnosed, I wonder if it’s more like 50%.
This article will help you avoid food poisoning.
“Not me” is usually the first thing people tell me when I talk about food poisoning. “I have an iron gut,” they say.
If I feel it’s important to debate, I ask them how many times they’ve had the “stomach flu” or the “24 hour flu”
“Oh, once every year or two,” they say.
Busted! Neither of those things exist! They are both food poisoning (or Norwalk Virus, which is sometimes spread through surfaces and hands getting to mouths…., so it’s kinda like food poisoning).
The flu is a respiratory virus that doesn’t always cause digestive issues/vomiting. It takes days or weeks to recover, not one day.
The “stomach flu” is gastro enteritis, which isn’t influenza. It simply means an infection in your stomach/intestines (which is often caused by eating contaminated food).
But it takes more than just bugs to bring about food poisoning. A few things have to go wrong.
1. Food has to be contaminated. Common ways are saliva and snot (sneezing), contaminated hands touching the food (so this is fecal matter or snot (hands are the dirtiest part of the body)), airborne bacteria (from vents, your clothes, sneezes, etc.), and cross-contamination (where you use a dirty knife to cut your veggies).
2. a) Once contaminated, the bacteria has to multiply. This requires time and the correct temperature. Contaminated food will become pathogenic (sick-causing) if it sits for two or more hours between 4 and 60 degrees C (aka the “danger zone” which is basically room temperature).
in the danger zone, microbes multiply rapidly. When it’s cold however, they multiply very slowly. This is why things still go bad in the fridge, it just takes a few days. Hotter than 60 degrees a lot of the bacteria die or at least can’t multiply. So at a buffet (or in your lunch bag), the goal is to keep the hot food hot and the cold food cold.
Food poisoning prevention always assumes the food has been contaminated (maybe because bacteria is so difficult to completely wipe out).
2. b) Surface area. Think of the surface area of a steak. It has three sides. Or 6 I guess if it was a cube shape. Bacteria can only live on the outside. Some of it can drill down into the meat but not much. Now think of ground beef. How many sides does it have? Millions. The grinding process mixes the bacteria into all aspects of the beef.
This is also why potato salad is a common offender.
3. Dose. Ok so we have a contaminated food. But it’s still not a guarantee it makes you sick. You still have to eat an infectious dose. One bite might not do it. It might though if it is highly infected.
3 b. Human defenses and immune system. Everyone will have a different tolerance to the amount of bugs they eat before they get sick. Stomach acid for example, can kill some of the bacteria before it gets you sick. Eating a large meal or drinking fluids with meals will weaken your stomach acid, allowing more bacteria to survive.
Even our taste buds will detect some foods being toxic, but again, not all.
The individual different reaction to food poisoning make it difficult to find the cause. Further, different bacteria affect you sometimes days after eating them!
Batch Cooking Tips
- Wash your hands properly. 30 seconds with soap then rinse. Don’t forget between your fingers, tips, and thumbs. Video
- Clean then disinfect all surfaces. Tidy, wipe it down, then use a 10% bleach solution or cleaning product. If you’re worried about that product getting into your food, get a clean towel and water and wipe off the cleaning product
- Wash your hands every time you touch something that could be potentially contaminated (phone, cupboard door, lid to garbage can).
- Don’t touch your face. It will give germs to food and bring germs to your face.
- Announce contaminated sites to your partner or to yourself. Like if you cut a bunch of chicken, say “This cutting board is contaminated.” If you then wash your hands in the sink, “Sink is now contaminated.”
- Sometimes it’s best just to stop cooking and do a round of hand-washing and dishes.
- Have a dedicated “animals” cutting board and one for “plants”. This will reduce your chances of mistakenly chopping veg in a pile of salmonella, or getting salmonella from a poorly-cleaned board. Do this for knives etc. too.
- Use a meat thermometer for correct temperatures.
- If you plan on cooling a hot food, get it cold as fast as you can. You don’t want it hanging around in the danger zone. Soups for example. You must portion it into smaller containers to cool it. Otherwise the outside of the pot will be in the danger zone and the middle parts will be hot. You can also buy ice wands that you stir hot soups with.
- In cooler days, you can put hot food outside to cool off.
- For boiled veggies, immediately after cooking, cool them in an ice bath or run under ice cold water for a minute. Then refrigerate.
- Do not put hot food in your fridge. It will raise the temperature of your fridge and potentially spoil all your food. Plus it’s a waste of energy. I leave things out to cool for about 30 minutes if I don’t have access to the chilly outdoors
Ok good job! All your food is safe for now.
How long can leftovers last? The rule was three days, now they say two. My record for broccoli is seven days after cooked and chicken, five days after cooked. Why didn’t they spoil?
– It wasn’t contaminated, or it was (chicken always salmonella), and I cooked it properly
– I cooled it quickly
– I kept it air tight
Watch for signs of food poisoning. Our stomach is smart. If your meal has a high bacterial load, it won’t allow it into your intestines. You will get more and more bloated as your stomach acids build up. Ultimately you are given a choice whether to make yourself puke (you are instantly cured) or your stomach will allow the bacteria into your intestines, and you will be sick for days.
Here’s to your health and safety.