Many infectious diseases are spread through contaminated food and water. But it is not only contracted in restaurants and from street food vendors. Transmission of viruses, bacteria and its toxins as well as other parasites through food and water can occur in the home just as much as in commercial kitchens. The risk is significantly greater when traveling to countries where the hygiene standards are not the same as most developed countries. However, even in the most developed nation the risk of foodborne and waterborne illnesses are always present although to a significantly lesser degree.
So what can you do to ensure that you minimize the chances of feeding your family and yourself contaminated food and water? Just a few simple measures can make a big difference in the home and even prove to be lifesaving when traveling abroad.
Always Ensure Clean Drinking Water
It is important to ensure that your drinking water is clean. These days you cannot always trust the water from a faucet even if you live in a first world country. Check with your local water authority that the water quality is suitable for human consumption and keep a lookout for notices that the water supply may be compromised.
It is usually not safe to drink the water from a faucet in many developing nations but check online to verify whether the country in question does have suitable piped water. Rather be cautious and stick to bottled water during your travel to avoid waterborne illnesses. Only buy and consume bottled water from reputable brands.
Keep Raw Meat Separate from Vegetables
Raw meat is teeming with bacteria, some of which are dangerous to humans and can cause serious illnesses. Therefore raw meat has to be handled with care at all times. Never use the same cutting board or work surface for meat and vegetables unless it has been thoroughly cleaned. Since some of your vegetables may be consumed uncooked or just partially cooked, the microbes may not be destroyed prior to eating.
Work with your vegetables first, get it out of the way and then start with the meat. Alternatively use a suitable disinfectant to clean the work surface if you have prepared the meat first. Just as important is the storage of meat and vegetables in the refrigerator. Keep them separate and meat should be properly covered at all times in the fridge.
Wash Fruits and Vegetables in Clean Water
Even without meat in the equation, fresh fruit and vegetables can contain various microbes. It may be from the soil it was grown in or from contact with other foods, surfaces and human touch during the picking, transport and storage processes. Rather be cautious and wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly.
It may seem wholesome to eat it straight out of the ground or off a tree but these fruit and vegetables could be contaminated. Wash thoroughly with clean water and try to use a mild disinfectant that is suitable for human consumption. Alternatively a short soak in saltwater can do the trick. Also peel your fruits and vegetables where possible. Avoid eating uncooked vegetables or unpeeled fruits when abroad.
Cook Meat Thoroughly Before Eating
The only way to destroy the bacteria and other microbes on raw meat is to cook it thoroughly. Although these germs are mainly on the surface of the meat, once meat is being cut and prepared it spreads to the deeper layers. Adequate heat will therefore be able to reach deeper and destroy all the dangerous germs in it.
If you do want to tuck into a rare steak then make sure that you buy your meat from a reputable source. Cook food thoroughly on the surface and only opt for rare steak when you prepare it yourself or eat at a reputable restaurant. Otherwise stick to well cooked meat. Avoid any raw or partially cooked meat when you are traveling abroad to countries with less strict health standards.
Refrigerate Food After Cooking and Cooling
Cooked food rapidly decays and depending on the environmental temperature, it can be spoiled within hours. Bacteria in the air and sometimes within some of the ingredients itself multiply rapidly in warm food. If you live in warmer environments or prefer only partially cooked foods like meat then the risk is much greater.
Once your cooked dish has cooled sufficiently, and if it is not being consumed right away then you should put it in the refrigerator. The cold will prevent any bacteria from multiplying and the air tight environment in the refrigerator will keep other bacteria in the air at bay. Always heat food thoroughly before eating. It will destroy the bacteria that may have already multiplied prior to refrigeration.
Clean Work Surfaces In The Kitchen
You need to use a strong disinfectant in the kitchen. But it should be safe for home use in that it will not taint or poison people and pets in small quantities. From antibacterial soap at the faucet to ammonia-based floor suds, all surfaces need to be cleaned properly on a regular basis. However, the greatest risk lies on the kitchen counter and cutting boards where food is prepared.
Within a few minutes food can be contaminated and unfit for human consumption. But it is not visible to the naked eye and sometimes you cannot even smell it. Keep work surfaces clean by using a suitable antimicrobial cleaner. Wash before and after preparing food and even in between if you are handling raw meat.
Stick To Pasteurized Dairy Products
More people are supporting small farm stalls and opting for dairy outside of the stores. It may seem all natural and wholesome but if you are not careful, it can pose a risk to your health. While local health authorities may have measures in place to ensure that unpasteurized dairy is not distributed, the same measures may not be in place in other countries.
Always read the packaging carefully and ensure that the dairy you consume was pasteurized. If you are still uncertain, then buy your dairy products at larger stores stocking reputable brands. You can feel somewhat secure in knowing that all the necessary measures have been taken to ensure your safety when consuming these products.
Stay Out Of The Kitchen If Sick
Your hands are one of the main culprits in spreading germs. So are the droplets of saliva and mucus that you expel into the air when you cough and sneeze. You may not be able to see it but your hands, nose and mouth are teeming with microbes even when you are healthy. Normally these germs do not pose a significant risk to you or to others.
But when you are ill then there is a good chance that you may contaminate the food that you are preparing and spread your illness to others who eat your meals. Rather stay out of the kitchen when you are unwell. It is not as easy to do when you are eating out especially when traveling abroad. Even a person who does not look sick may be contagious and could contaminate your food during the preparation phase.