SINGAPORE: Food poisoning has been in the spotlight in Singapore recently, with a number of high profile cases resulting in mass cases and the closure of some establishments.
To assess how risky certain types of food are and how to reduce any potential issues, CNA did an experiment with the help of food safety expert Richard Khaw from Nanyang Polytechnic.
Here are five things we found out following the experiment.
1) SALAD SUFFERING
While a bowl of salad is generally very nutritious and healthy, it is not a meal completely free of food-poisoning risks.
That's because most salads are built with raw foods like leaves, tomatoes and capsicums, which do not go through the cooking process that kills bacteria.
Washing the salad ingredients certainly helps, but it may not get rid of all the bacteria. And that could spell trouble, potentially giving you the runs or making you vomit (this is particularly the case with people with lowered immunity - such as the elderly, young kids, and those who have been though treatment like chemotherapy).
So, if you're making a salad at home, thoroughly wash any ingredients which you don't cook or peel.
And if you're ordering a salad for delivery, keep your fingers crossed that the kitchen staff know basic food preparation standards.
2) BACTERIA IN THE SPOTLIGHT
In cases of mass food poisoning, the culprit is usually one of three types of bacteria: E-coli, salmonella or listeria.
Salmonella can be found in things like eggs, poultry and poultry products. E-coli and listeria are usually found in water used to irrigate crops that end up on our plates on fruit and vegetables. These bacteria are also called pathogens.
Cooking to a sufficiently high temperature will kill these bacteria.
3) HIGH HEAT DOES NOT DESTROY ALL BACTERIA
Bacteria is typically killed in temperatures above 75 deg celsius. However, unless you use a thermometer at home you might not know when the food hits the bacteria kill zone. If in doubt when cooking at home, it's better to bring pans of food on the stove to a boiling temperature.
However, bacteria like the bacillus cereus, which can be found on rice, cereals or other dry ingredients is trickier. While it is killed in high heat, it forms spores which are are heat-resistant and can survive cooking.
As the food cools, bacteria regrows from the spores and may release toxins that cause food poisoning.
To avoid trouble from this bacteria, eat freshly prepared food, make sure the food has a strong heat source, or store it in the fridge.
4) GUIDELINES TO EAT FOOD WITHIN FOUR HOURS
If you've ever been part of a work event or social activity where lunch is delivered by a catering company, you'll know that it has a four-hour time-limit for consumption. The clock starts ticking from the time a cooked dish is placed at the temperature danger zone of between five and 60 degrees Celsius, according to the Singapore Food Agency.
What happens after four hours is up?
In the experiment conducted by CNA and Nanyang Polytechnic, a catered bento set was in the “safe zone” in terms of bacteria count soon after it was delivered, but started showing signs of becoming risky at four hours.
Mr Khaw advised eating catered food as quickly as possible after delivery to reduce the risks.
5) HYGIENE, HYGIENE, HYGIENE
Food sellers, including caterers, should use tongs and gloves to maintain hygiene, and make sure that shared utensils are washed properly. While you might not be able to tell what goes on when the food is being prepared in the kitchen, the use of such equipment when serving food is an indication that proper hygiene standards are generally followed.
Hygiene should also be maintained at home, starting with thoroughly washing hands. Frozen food should also be completely defrosted before cooking to ensure that the food is cooked evenly. Separate chopping boards should be used for cooked and raw food.