While Barbadians are gearing up to enjoy all of the Christmas treats and goodies, the Ministry of Health has reminded food handlers of the importance of preparing foods safely during the holiday season to avoid foodborne illnesses.
Environmental Health Specialist with responsibility for food safety, Leonard King, has advised persons to adhere to the universal "props" of food safety which include, avoiding cross contamination, practising good personal hygiene and cooking foods to the appropriate temperatures. He also suggested that consumers purchase foods from approved sources.
"When it comes to consumers eating or purchasing food, it is always good to know something about the individuals or companies you are purchasing from. When one consumes food from a person who prepares it, there is that element of trust they want to have. They want to know that person would have done nothing to contaminate the food to cause them to become ill," Mr. King pointed out.
He gave the following tips for persons to observe when preparing meals: Adequately cook the food; make sure you have proper holding temperatures for the food; keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold – 4.4 degrees celsius for cold foods and 60 degrees celsius or above, for hot foods. Try to avoid cross contamination; this means things like fish, poultry, eggs and meat should be kept separate – except when combining in recipes; make sure that raw meats are separated from ready-to-eat foods; food should be covered and labeled with the date it was prepared and properly packaged when storing in the refrigerator; make sure cooked foods are stored above uncooked foods. Clean all equipment properly that will come into contact with food using the ???wash, rinse and sanitise’ method; use one chemical, for example, bleach to one gallon of water or hot water (180 degrees Fahrenheit) can be used with a contact time of two minutes (contact time applies to bleach as well).
Acknowledging that Barbados had seen an increase in the number of leptospirosis cases, Mr. King urged members of the public to be vigilant when it came to rodents. He said they could urinate or defecate on food surfaces unknown to householders.
"If you don’t observe these things or see them, foods can come in contact with them and persons can contract leptospirosis," he noted.
In relation to personal hygiene, the Environmental Health Specialist encouraged persons to wash their hands, especially after using the washroom, handling raw foods and taking out the garbage. Additionally, those with colds or other respiratory illnesses should make sure that all measures are taken to protect food from contamination.
Householders and owners of food establishments should make sure that they practise good sanitation around their homes or businesses to avoid harbouring flies, Mr. King said.
"We’ve had problems around this time [of year] where flies get access to ham or turkey and deposit eggs in them. These [eggs] hatch quickly and you get larvae or what people call maggots. Then people blame whoever they purchased the products from," he disclosed.