Last week I posted four stories concerning contaminated food of some sort, one story about a two restaurants being closed in Halifax, and read one story about a new strain of swine flu that is currently spreading through the U.S. All of these stories have one thing in common… Food whether it is being prepared in a restaurant, sold in a grocery store, or walking around a barn yard.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines a food borne disease as ‘diseases, usually either infectious or toxic in nature, caused by agents that enter the body through the ingestion of food.’ If you eat, and we all do, you are at risk of contracting a food borne disease. These can cause symptoms ranging from upset stomach to death. The numbers posted on the WHO fact sheets are staggering, In the U.S., for example, around 76 million cases of food borne diseases, resulting in 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths, are estimated to occur each year. The numbers are estimated to be much worst in developing countries.
In Canada we enjoy a fairly effective system for preventing food borne diseases but it’s not 100%; as shown in the stories I listed above. This system can break down very quickly during a disaster and I am willing to bet it will be one of the first systems to become non – existent once hordes of cannibalistic monsters are wondering the streets. This is why everybody should take the time to learn how to handle, store, and prepare food properly. Not only when things are good, but also when things are bad.
The WHO has come out with a program called 5 Keys to Safer Food. These basic rules should be followed at all times especially if you are preparing food during a disaster situation. Although I have listed them here with a quick explanation I strongly recommend that you visit the site here and read the full article.
- Keep Clean: This refers to you, your tools and your preparation surfaces. It won’t do you any good to pull a piece of meat from a vacuum sealed package if you put it on a filthy counter or use a dirty knife to cut it. And a very simple thing… WASH YOUR HANDS!!!
- Separate Raw and Cooked: Keep raw foods away from cooked foods. This is especially true of poultry and fish, these two meats can easily contaminate other foods with bacteria such as Ecoli. If you cannot use a separate surface and tools to prepare raw meat then ensure you clean the surface, tools and your hands thoroughly with hot soapy water and / or bleach.
- Cook Thoroughly: Bring soups, stews and the like to a minimum temperature of 70ºC. Cook meats all the way through, when you cut into the meat the juices should run clear, not pink. Although you may enjoy a medium rare steak off of your backyard barbeque it is probably not the best idea during a zombie apocalypse, flood, hurricane or other natural disaster.
- Keep Foods At Safe Temperatures: In other words keep hot foods hot (above 60ºC) and cold foods cold (below 5ºC). In between these two temperatures bacteria can and will grow. Do not allow foods to sit at room temperature for more than 2 hours. And just because something has been refrigerated does not mean it is still good.
- Use Safe Water and Raw Materials: When using water ensure it is safe to drink (see blog entry on water) check all expiry dates on food, even canned food does not last forever. If you see ANY mold on sauce do not use it! Mold on top of liquids grow roots into the liquid poisoning the entire container. If you are lucky enough to find fresh fruit and vegetables make sure you clean them thoroughly and peel them before eating.
The 5 keys are excellent rules to follow when preparing food either at home or in the midst of a disaster. However this is not the only source for this information, Health Canada has an excellent site here as well. There are also safe food handling courses offered in most community colleges across Canada now if you want to go that extra step. Regardless of what path you decide to take the next time you prepare a meal for your family whether it is in the comfort of your own home, or on the run from a horde of zombies stop to consider the safety of the food you are about to make and ask yourself… Are you prepared?