Every year, approximately 600 million people get sicka cause of diseases transmitted through food. Nail 420,000 of them lose their lives.
The most common cause are the bacteria that proliferate in food expired or poorly preserved.
Can cause gastrointestinal infectionsIt is severe, manifesting in some individuals with severe vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration.
This aggregate data, collected by the World Health Organization (WHO)They always caught the attention of the Professor of Microbiology Uelinton Pintoof the Food Research Center of the University of São Paulo (FoRC-USP).
Therefore, the specialist decided to put together a team to investigate the impact of this problem on Brazil.
The group’s first step was to publish a survey on 2019which found 247,000 cases Y 195 deaths related to foodborne diseases in the country between 2000 and 2018.
“One of the things we observe is that most of the contamination occurs in the home,” reveals I paint.
At the end of 2021the team of scientists decided to further understand how some common habits when storing and cooking food contribute to this scenario.
then in BBC World We tell you about the most common mistakes in this field and how, by implementing simple changes at home, the chances of infection can be drastically reduced.
The guidelines are based on interviews conducted by BBC News Brazil and in a booklet recently published by researchers at FoRC-USP and available for download.
1. Wash the chicken in the sink
According to the survey of Brazilian researchers, it is the most frequent mistake in the country’s homes.
Many think that washing raw meat with tap water removes impurities, as well as helping to remove that thin layer of slime that coats the surface of these foods.
But it is a risky habit for health: the big problem is that the stream of water that comes out of the faucet and hits the chicken usually splashes everything that is nearby.
Imagine, for example, that next to the kitchen sink you left a kitchen towel and some plates, pans and cutlery to dry. Droplets of water that splashed onto the chicken (and were contaminated by bacteria present in the food) can end up on these theoretically clean objects.
In other words: you can put a washed spoon in your mouth, but it may have received small spurts of microorganisms that are harmful to the intestines.
“Chicken naturally has a certain amount of bacteria and the best way to eliminate them is through the cooking process”, he teaches I paint.
The recommendation, therefore, is not washing the chicken before seasoning or putting it in the pan (or in the oven).
Now, if you still insist on putting this meat in the water, try to do it very carefully, without too many splashes or nearby objects.
Cook meat and eggs well By the way, it’s another sore point here. Ideally, the core of the food should reach a temperature of at least 70°C. This ensures that the majority of microorganisms have been eliminated.
One way to make sure is to use specific thermometers for cooking.
2. Use only water to sanitize vegetables that will be eaten raw
Here’s another common household mistake: simply clean fruits, vegetables and vegetables that are eaten raw and unpeeled (such as tomatoes, lettuce and apples) with a little water.
Although this superficial cleaning helps to eliminate larger impurities, it is not capable of completely eliminating the microorganisms that accumulate on the surface of these foods.
The recommendation is submerge them in a container that has a mixture of water and sodium hypochlorite for about 15 minutes.
Then simply wash under running water and pat dry before storing in the pantry or refrigerator, depending on the food.
“For every liter of water, add a tablespoon of hypochlorite“, He says I paint.
You can find this product for sale in markets, supermarkets and pharmacies. It is also available for free at some health centers.
Another option here is regular bleach.
In this case, always read the label carefully: to disinfect food, never use options that contain substances other than hypochlorite.
Other ingredients that may appear in the formulations of bleach, like chlorine, can be toxic if consumed.
This cleansing rite does not require use with peeled and cooked vegetables, such as potatoes or yucca. It will be the cooking that will eliminate potentially harmful microorganisms.
3. Not washing your hands before handling food
Now, it is useless to have clean food if the hands you use to handle it are dirty.
In this case, pathogens that have ended up on fingernails and fingers can “jump” into the food, a process experts call cross-contamination.
Before starting any recipe (or just grabbing an apple to eat), it is important to wash your hands with soap and water.
If you don’t have a sink or lavatory nearby, the gel alcohol can be a great substitute.
4. Use the same utensils for raw and cooked ingredients
Speaking of cross contamination, imagine the risk you take by cutting raw meat and then using the same board and knife to remove the leaves from a piece of lettuce.
The microorganisms that were in the meat can go directly to the vegetables to be eaten raw in a salad.
“It is also important to always wash your hands after handling any raw food and, subsequently, handling something that is already cooked or ready to eat,” adds the professor of Microbiology Mariza Landgrafof FoRC and of the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences of USP, who also collaborated in the creation of the booklet.
5. Wait for the food to cool down before putting it in the refrigerator
Every microorganism has an ideal temperature to multiply.
Some, for example, replicate faster at 25°C. Others prefer 30, 35 ºC and so on.
This explanation helps us understand why waiting for food to cool down before putting it in the refrigerator is not a good idea.
If leftovers from a meal sit in the sink or on the stove for a long time, it can present the perfect opportunity for some bacteria to multiply.
The temperature of the pan or pot gradually drops after the stove or oven is turned off, until it reaches the ideal parameters for these microscopic beings to proliferate.
If the food goes directly to the refrigerator, the lower temperature prevents the accelerated reproduction of pathogens.
Landgraf He says that this custom of letting food cool to room temperature comes from the past, when refrigerators were less efficient and putting something hot inside represented an extra cost of electricity.
“With the evolution of these appliances, this problem is no longer as serious as before”, compares the expert.
6. Not keeping food in the right places in the fridge
Upper shelves, drawers, compartments in the door… The temperature can vary considerably according to each space of the appliance.
And that, once again, can influence the multiplication of microorganisms: fresh or already cooked foods need to be better protected from the cold, while preserves, drinks and condiments do not need such low temperatures.
That’s why refrigerator manufacturers and the brochure FoRC-USP recommend that people store products in the most appropriate places, as can be seen in the following list:
It’s also worth keeping an eye on how long food can be stored.
7. Leaving meat in unsealed containers
To be clear: the refrigerator does not completely prevent the process of multiplication of microorganisms.
They are naturally in food and will stay there, but in the fridge they will take much longer to grow and colonize.
One of the biggest risks in this colder environment is the way we store raw meats.
They usually come from butchers and supermarkets in polystyrene bags or trays and plastic wrap. They usually carry some fluid or blood with bacteria.
If the packaging has any holes, no matter how small, this liquid can leak out and spill onto other foods.
To prevent this from happening, the ideal is to change the container meat. Storing it in plastic or glass containers with lids is a good suggestion.
This is true, of course, if you are going to consume the meats in the next two or three days. If more time is going to pass before cooking, it is best to store them in the freezer – which, by the way, is the subject of our next point.
8. Thaw food at room temperature
The freezer is where precooked food, raw meats, ice cream and ice are stored.
Over there, the temperature is so low that it practically makes the survival of microorganisms unfeasible.
The danger occurs when these foods thaw.
The study of FoRC-USP found that 39% of respondents thaw food at room temperature and 16% place the product in a container filled with water to speed up the process.
Both methods present a contamination hazard: As food thaws, it releases water, creating the perfect environment for bacteria to thrive.
“It is always convenient to thaw in the refrigerator. And not just for the microorganismsbut because of the texture of the food”, evaluates Landgraf.
“If it thaws little by little, it absorbs that water and doesn’t lose texture,” he adds.
Another option, if you are in a hurry, is to use the microwave, which usually has a specific function to defrost.
9. Not cleaning the fridge from time to time
Finally, we cannot forget to periodically clean this appliance.
The goal is to remove stains, peels and debris that invariably fall from containers and dishes. All this material can serve as food for microorganisms.
The first step is unplug the fridge and remove all food. Take the opportunity to check the expiration date on the packaging and throw away the ones that you missed.
Remove removable parts such as shelves, drawers, and bins. wash everything with water and neutral detergent. Then let it dry naturally.
The third step is to rub a sponge moistened with water and neutral detergent all over the refrigerator. Use a damp cloth to rinse, then dry with a clean cloth.
Finally, put back all the removable pieces and return the food to their respective places.
the brochure FoRC-USP recommends that this refrigerator cleaning be done at least once a month.