Make Your Eating Safe
BACTERIA that cause food-related illnesses have certain requirements for life—food, water, air, warmth, and time. If one of these essentials is removed, growth is stopped or inhibited. So eating safely means that food must be prepared under conditions that do not allow bacterial growth in the food or the spread of contamination in the kitchen. Consider the following suggestions for safe eating, and wisely make application in your home where necessary.
Wash your hands, preferably with soap, before handling food. Be sure to bandage any hand injuries. Avoid sneezing and coughing over food, and refrain from touching your hair or wiping your nose while handling food. If your food preparation is interrupted and you attend to other things, such as using the toilet or handling animals, be sure to wash your hands before touching the food again.
Wash the food you are going to prepare. Never use fresh fruits and vegetables directly from the market or your own garden without washing them, even if they will be cooked. The water used for washing should be clean. If unpeeled vegetables and fruits are to be eaten raw, scrub these foods (preferably with a vegetable brush) to remove dirt as well as pesticide residue. Leafy vegetables, such as spinach and lettuce, should also be thoroughly washed to remove sand and soil.
If you live in a tropical area where parasites, such as intestinal worms and flukes, are common, then all fresh fruits and vegetables that will be served raw or only lightly cooked should be washed in clean water with a small amount of disinfectant added to kill these organisms. Hypochlorite is a common, effective disinfectant, marketed under a variety of brand names. Normally, a small amount is dissolved in clean water, and the fruits and vegetables are submerged. The food can then be washed off with plain, clean water before it is eaten.
Thoroughly cook all meat, fish, and poultry to destroy harmful organisms. Frozen meat and poultry should be thawed out completely before cooking it, so that heat can penetrate to the center. Pigs may be infected with trichina worms, and humans who eat improperly cooked pork may develop trichinosis. In some countries 10 percent of the sausage meat sold in large city markets is said to be infected with trichinosis. Trichina worms can be killed by thorough cooking at high heat, but other processing methods, such as smoking and pickling, do not kill them.
Fish and shellfish may harbor liver or lung flukes, which will pass into the human system if the fish is not cooked thoroughly. Salting, pickling, or soaking them in rice wine is not sufficient to kill such parasites. Although raw fish and shellfish are customarily eaten in some cultures, caution should be exercised if water pollution is severe.
When water is from a questionable source, it should be boiled before consumption, for at least 15 minutes where water contamination is severe. In some areas drinking water may be purified by chlorination, but it should not be relied upon where bacteria and parasites are common. Boiling is best.
In many countries contaminated water spreads cholera, jaundice, typhoid, paratyphoid, bacillary dysentery, and amoebic dysentery, among other diseases. In some places even city water supplies cannot be assumed to be safe. Once water is boiled, store it in clean, covered vessels.
In some areas the filtering of water is also recommended. Filters are available as faucet attachments or as separate units into which water is poured and allowed to drip through unglazed porcelain or other filtering substances. Filtering removes suspended particles and contaminants, but it usually does not get rid of harmful bacteria. However, some new filters and attachments evidently do remove harmful bacteria, although they are relatively expensive, and if they are not regularly changed, they themselves may contaminate. Modern filtering equipment even enabled the astronauts to drink their own urine.
If your milk is not pasteurized, it is wise to sterilize it by heating. Indian nutritionist Dr. Sucy Eapen warns: “There is danger of contamination of the milk by the animal itself, by the milk vendor and his handling of it, and also by the containers used for the milk.”
Milk should be heated to 160 degrees Fahrenheit [72° C.] or higher and kept at that temperature for at least 15 seconds. Then chill it rapidly to 50 degrees Fahrenheit [10° C.] or cooler. Another method involves heating the milk for a longer time at lower temperatures: 145 to 151 degrees Fahrenheit [63 to 66° C.] for 30 minutes.
Keep flies away from food. Flies may carry germs that cause typhoid, cholera, dysentery, scarlet fever, and diphtheria. They can also transmit the virus of polio and the eggs of intestinal worms and parasites. The best way to deal with flies around the home is to keep them from breeding. You can examine your own situation and see if refuse needs to be cleaned up. Containers for garbage should be properly covered and disinfected. Don’t allow anyone to dump filth near your living quarters. Manure should be covered or disposed of so that flies cannot breed there.—Compare Deuteronomy 23:13.
Eat food soon after it is cooked, especially during hot weather. Harmful bacteria will quickly multiply. If you want to prepare food early and eat later, then chill the food after cooking it and thoroughly reheat it before serving.
Cooked food should be kept sufficiently hot (above 140° F. [60° C.]) or cold (below 50° F. [10° C.]). The danger zone—where bacteria will grow and multiply—is in between. This means that leftovers should not be kept if they cannot be chilled. If you have no refrigeration, cook enough for one meal only. In some lands herbs and spices are often contaminated with bacteria. So these should be added to food at the beginning of cooking to receive full heat treatment.
Keep your kitchen clean. This includes your cooking utensils, your clothes, and you. If you normally cook and prepare food on the floor, make it a habit in your family to remove street shoes before entering the cooking area. Shoes can carry diseases from contact with human and animal fecal matter and contaminate the food you work so hard to prepare. Pets and other animals should be kept away from food-preparation areas.
Wash dishes with hot water and soap. If you are washing a number of cooking utensils, discard the water when it gets dirty and replace it with clean hot water and soap. Dry dishes with clean cloths, or let them air-dry in an area away from dust and insects.
In many lands utensils are scrubbed with ash, rinsed with water, and dried in the sun. This produces satisfactory results where soap is not economical to use, as the alkaline ash kills microorganisms, and the heat and ultraviolet rays of the sun sanitize the utensils.
Outside Your Home
At restaurants or large gatherings where food is served buffet or cafeteria style, try to choose foods that appear to be either very hot or very cold. If you note that food has been sitting out at room temperature for a long time in hot weather, it may be best to avoid it.
Since it costs money to boil water, many restaurants in developing lands do not boil the drinking water served to their customers, so it is safer not to drink it. Also, avoid juices or drinks that require added water or ice. Bottled drinks or hot drinks are generally safer.
If worms and other intestinal parasites are a problem in the area, avoid all raw salads. And no matter how tempting they are, avoid vegetables and fruits that cannot be peeled. It is likely that such foods were not properly washed or disinfected. In some places fresh fruits and vegetables are cut up and sold on the street for easy eating. These may well be unsafe to eat.
In many Oriental lands, street vendors are a popular sight, serving up a variety of mouth-watering items. Before eating food at such a stand, observe the sanitary conditions. Does it seem dirty? Is the food already cooked and sitting uncovered? Is there a provision for garbage disposal, or is garbage strewed about? Does the one preparing the food appear dirty and unkempt? Are there animals nearby and many flies? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then you’re inviting problems if you eat there.
Nearly everyone delights in eating well-prepared, tasty food. But exercise good judgment and care when handling and selecting food. Then enjoy safe eating!
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Wash your hands, preferably with soap, before handling food
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Thoroughly cook all meat, fish, and poultry to destroy harmful organisms
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Water from a questionable source should be boiled
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If milk is not pasteurized, sterilize it by heating
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Keep flies away from food
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Safeguard your food from contamination
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Keep dishes and utensils clean
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There is often good reason to question the safety of food sold by street vendors