In 2011, a Belgian college student ate pasta for lunch, like he had every afternoon that week, and died 10 hours later. The pasta he ate was made 5 days earlier and had been left unrefrigerated.
The NCBI published a study on the young man’s case which explains the strange nature of his death. On testing the food sample, they found Bacillus cereus, a bacteria that is known for causing toxic food poisoning-like symptoms associated with eating food that’s been sitting at room temperature for too long. A popular YouTuber recently covered this tragic story that went viral and made many of us think twice about eating our leftovers.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), foodborne and waterborne diarrhoeal diseases kill an estimated 2 million people worldwide annually, including many children. Unsafe food containing harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances, causes more than 200 diseases - ranging from diarrhea to cancers.
On this World Food Day, while the focus is on achieving #ZeroHunger, it is also important to ensure the food we make at home is safe. Each of us has been prone to contracting foodborne diseases simply by consuming contaminated food, be it from the street or from our kitchen.
Consumption of safe food eliminates health risks and brings us one step closer to solving the world hunger problem. We, at home, can incorporate simple changes to ensure proper utilization and consumption of food that is produced to reduce wastage and improve the health of one person at a time—
- Shop for the right kind of fresh produce — Most vegetables and fruits retain their freshness for a short period of time depending on how they’re stored. Buy seasonal vegetables and fruits since their quality is normally high and their price, low. Pick out vegetables that are firm, crisp, and bright in colour with no signs of decay or visible bruises. Beware of vegetables that could be artificially coloured to give the illusion of freshness.
- Get rid of pesticides from your food — Although it is difficult to determine whether your food is contaminated by pesticides or not, it is best to take precautions in the kitchen to reduce dietary intake of pesticides. Thoroughly rinse and scrub fruits and vegetables; peel them if appropriate. It is also advisable to remove the outer layers of leafy vegetables such as cabbage and cauliflower.
- Separate cooked food from raw food — Exposing raw food to cooked food could result in cross-contamination, which is the transfer of harmful micro-organisms from one item of food to another via a non-food surface such as utensils, equipment, or human hands. Contaminated water could also render the food unsafe for consumption.
- Do not leave your food out for too long — The US FDA states the “2-hour rule” where perishables left at room temperature for over 2 hours must be discarded. Bacteria exist everywhere in nature and they grow rapidly in temperatures between 4.4℃ and 60℃. Many bacteria produce heat-resistant toxins that cannot be destroyed even by reheating at a high temperature. Hence, to be safe refrigerate your leftovers and do not reheat them more than once before you eat.
- The right way to store food in a refrigerator — Refrigerators must be kept clean at all times. Cool temperatures might slow down bacterial growth but do not stop the growth completely. To ensure perishables are safe in your refrigerator, it is best to not overstock your fridge as it reduces air circulation. Do not keep your refrigerator open for long since the temperature rises when the door is opened. A helpful tip is to cover food or wrap leafy vegetables with paper to retain moisture and prevent them from picking odours from other foods. Also, make it a habit to throw out perishable foods that are no longer good to eat once a week.
- Take precautions while cooking in a microwave - Microwave ovens can cook less evenly than in a conventional oven, which means they leave “cold spots” where harmful bacteria can survive. For uniform cooking, arrange food items evenly in a covered dish and add some liquid if needed. Use cookware that is manufactured for microwave cooking; avoid materials like plastic and metals that cause leakage, cracks, sparks, or even those that dissolve.