The number of gastro-intestinal infections that go unrecorded every year is likely to be well in excess of those reported. Most of the pathogens causing these illnesses probably originate in consumers’ own households. “Salmonella, listeria, campylobacter, EHEC and other bacteria are generally brought in from eggs, raw meat and unpasteurised dairy produce, but also from unwashed fruit and vegetables and consumers’ own hands; they are then transferred onto kitchen work surfaces, and from there onto other foods”, warns Dr Andreas Daxenberger, food expert at TÜV SÜD. He advises being careful to follow these tips – particularly in summer:
Hand-washing before cooking
Thorough hand-washing – 20 seconds, using soap – drastically reduces the amount of bacteria on skin and foods. Anyone handling eggs and raw meat must be sure to wash their hands again before going on to prepare salad or vegetables.
Chopping-boards harbour bacteria
It is advisable to keep work surfaces for preparing meat and fish separate from those used for vegetables and salad. Keep a chopping board specifically for raw meat or fish, and clean and dry it thoroughly after every use. Bacteria can collect more easily in cracks, so replace the board regularly.
Dishcloths and sponges – paradise for bacteria
Using dishcloths or sponges that are overdue for a wash or replacement spreads bacteria over tables, crockery and work surfaces. Here too, frequent replacement is the watchword. Sponges and cloths used for dishwashing should be run through a 60° wash every couple of days.
Watch the cool chain
Careful monitoring of the cool chain prevents bacteria from breeding. Sensitive foods like meat, eggs and dairy produce belong in the refrigerator – as do leftovers. In summer, it is wise to take a cool bag along when you go food shopping to prevent the temperature of your purchases from rising excessively. However, some types of bacteria love the cool, damp conditions inside the refrigerator – so make sure all food is covered. Regular cleaning with a solution of hot water and vinegar keeps fridges clean. Foods that go off easily (such as mayonnaise-based delicatessen salads and tiramisu) should not be left out of the refrigerator for long periods, particularly in the summer. Many pathogens only represent a real hazard when given sufficient time and the correct temperature to breed.
Care when defrosting foods
The defrosting liquid from poultry is particularly likely to contain salmonella and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Frozen meats should thus be placed in a well-covered bowl in the refrigerator to defrost, the defrosting liquid should be poured away immediately. Then wash your hands thoroughly and carefully clean all kitchen utensils.