DOHA: Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) is reminding residents to protect themselves from bacterial infections and food-borne diseases during summer by practising good food hygiene and avoiding eating contaminated food.
According to Dr Galal Saleh Alessai, Emergency Physician and Medical Toxicologist, Emergency Department, Hamad General Hospital (HGH), one of the most common illnesses seen at the department during hot summer months is food poisoning.
“Food poisoning is an acute illness that occurs when bacteria, viruses or other germs are absorbed by food substances consumed by people,” he said, adding “bacterial growth in food is likely to occur when food is not kept cold enough.”
“Common symptoms and signs of food poisoning include nausea and vomiting, abdominal cramps or pain, diarrhoea, fever, bloody stool, and in severe cases, shock and collapse.”
He said elderly people, children under five, people with a serious illness or disease such as diabetes, pregnant women, people with a compromised immune system, people taking medication such as steroids, antibiotics or antihistamines, or those who travel frequently are at a greater risk of contracting the illness and should be extra cautious.
HMC’s Food Hygiene Supervisors, Joegi C Ramos and Ginesh George said temperature and time are crucial factors leading to bacterial growth in food. When preparing food, people should be mindful of the temperature danger-zone, which ranges from five to 63 degrees Celsius.
Ramos said any cooked food, which is high in proteins, should not be exposed to these temperature, for more than two hours, as this will result in multiplication of micro-organisms responsible for food-borne illnesses. During this time, the risk of physical contamination also increases through the possibility of insect or human contact.
If time and temperature guidelines are not adhered to, moisture may build up in the cooked food, increasing the possibility of the food becoming microbiologically contaminated. “It is recommended not to leave cooked rice under room-temperature for a long time as moisture will accumulate in the container and allow the growth of bacteria,” George said.
“Significant factors that contribute to food contamination include microbiological factor caused by bacteria such as Salmonella found in raw meat, milk, eggs, and poultry, Bacillus Cereus found in cereals, rice, herbs, and dried foods, and Vibrio Paraheamolyticus found in seafood,” he added.
Ramos said if certain food products are not handled properly, they could be considered to be at high-risk of food poisoning. “This includes raw food, ready-to-eat food exposed for significant amounts of time to higher temperatures, cooked meat and poultry, or any food rich in protein.
“Improperly stored cooked-chilled meals and stock, unpasteurised dairy products, mayonnaise, home-made ice-cream, and hummus are also deemed to be at high risk of food poisoning.”
To prevent food contamination the most important thing is cook food should be consumed the same day. Cooking for instance for lunch or dinner parties the next day, is not advised because storing cooked food correctly is something people often ignore,” George said.
“When storing food items in the refrigerator, make sure you place high-risk foods, including cooked meals, on the top shelf, and place raw items towards the bottom to avoid cross-contamination.
“Most of the time, people tend to defrost frozen chicken in the kitchen sink under running water. It is important to check the temperature of the water, which should not be above 21 degrees C. It is advisable to use cold running water
“Also ensure your frozen item is not removed from its packing or cover. If it remains sealed, chances of any contamination are easily avoided, and its nutrients content is most likely preserved,” Ramos said.
While cooling freshly prepared food, George advised the ice-bathing procedure so the time of exposure to room temperature is lessened. “If you are cooking a solid item, make sure you cut it into small pieces, place it in a shallow container, close it and put it in the basin with crushed ice or chilled water under it. This will speed up the cooling process,” he said.
Both supervisors stressed that personal hygiene is of utmost importance to avoid contamination. “This is not just limited to hand washing but also includes making sure the person preparing food is well groomed. Covering hair while cooking is encouraged as fallen hair in the food can cause contamination,” George said.