How to avoid food poisoning both at home and when eating out.
By Massa Bitar
A few months ago, more than 2,000 restaurants in Jeddah were shut down due to unsanitary food practices and an ascending number of food-poisoning cases. In fact, food in most of these restaurants was contaminated with more than 11 types of harmful bacteria.
Bacteria multiply faster in hot and humid weather, which creates the perfect breeding grounds for bacteria to grow in food. If this food ends up in our systems, food poisoning is an unavoidable consequence.
Symptoms of Food Poisoning
Symptoms can start at any point between a few hours to several weeks later. The most common symptoms are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, lack of energy, lack of appetite, fever, aching muscles, and chills. Symptoms are stronger in children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with immunodeficiency.
Follow these tips when handling food at home:
- Keep it away from all sorts of contaminants (raw meats or eggs, dirty surfaces, unwashed hands, dirty equipment, poor personal hygiene in staff, pests, cleaning cloths, and cleaning chemicals).
- Wash and disinfect all utensils and surfaces before and after food preparation.
- Make sure that the food doesn’t stay at room temperature for more than two hours.
- Throw the food if it stays for more than four hours at room temperature.
- Wash your hands very well before touching any food product.
- When you buy food at the supermarket, take it home as quickly as possible.
- Do not leave hot food to cool at room temperature, wait till no more steam is rising and cool it rapidly by dipping the container in an ice water bath.
- Do not over-pack your refrigerator.
What to Avoid When Eating Out
- Raw or undercooked: meat, poultry, eggs, fish or shellfish or any foods containing them.
- Raw or unpasteurized milk, cheese, fruit or vegetable juices.
- Soft cheeses made with unpasteurized milk such as feta, Brie, Camembert, and Mexican-style.
- Avoid water if it’s not straight from a sealed bottle (beware of ice cubes- ice machines can be loaded with bacteria).
How do you know if a restaurant follows proper food safety practices?
- Check if the restaurant holds any food safety certification.
- Check bathrooms: they are a good indicator of the overall cleanliness of a place.
- Scan the employees (clean uniform, hair pulled back, clean fingernails, no uncovered cuts, no sign of sickness- coughing or runny nose, have Baladiah cards).
When in doubt, avoid it. After all, it’s not worth the risk.
Massa Bitar, MSc. RD.
Registered Clinical Dietitian and Food Safety Expert MSc in Nutrition from King’s College London
Facebook: Massa’s nutriclub