The science behind food safety

Contaminated food and unsafe drinking water kills an estimated two million people every year.

It’s also linked to over 200 diseases that target people with a vulnerable health status. That’s why this year’s World Health Day on April 7 is all about food safety. The World Health Organization (WHO) promote 5 key rules about food safety and we’ve added some research studies that offer a bit of context, background (and maybe a strange fact or two) around each rule.

(Also, as an added bonus, you can reduce your anxiety level while reading: research has shown the more you know about food safety, the less stressed you are).

Keep clean: wash and sanitize

world health dayRemember being told to wash your hands before you eat? Call up your parents and thank them because it was their nagging (I mean… verbal reminders) that helped push this golden rule to the top. According to this study, middle school children remember to wash their hands and fruit/vegetables above all other food safety rules, precisely because of these parental cues.  Sadly, this golden rule doesn’t stick with us forever. Results of this research in Seoul show elderly people generally know the importance of hand washing, but are not aware of when and how they should carry out the practice.

Separate raw and cooked food

Eating out is usually an enjoyable experience – but not always. As it turns out, Americans have a pretty high chance of picking up salmonella while they’re fine dining. This research team examined chicken preparation and food safety knowledge in 448 restaurants. 40% of the kitchen managers said they never, rarely, or only sometimes designate a cutting board for raw meat, including chicken. Yikes. In saying that, don’t think your own kitchen is too crash-hot for food safety! Data from 20 UK households revealed that kids, adults and family pets all participate in non-food related activity in the kitchen, allowing foodborne diseases to reign supreme.

Cook and reheat thoroughly

These researchers point out that we often undercook food to preserve its natural taste and nutrients. But it’s at a cost: parasites and food go hand-in-hand when sub-optimal cooking temperatures are involved. The team analyze the most important foodborne parasites emerging today and highlight their routes of infection.  But if all else fails in your heating practices, you might want to keep an eye on the latest essential oils in chicken sausages. Sausages are highly susceptible to microbial contamination, and these researchers point out that the flavoring and preservative activities of essential oils can help eliminate bacteria.

Keep food at safe temperatures

To help avoid those pesky parasites in your food, here’s a nice summary of the latest technologies to reduce, control or eliminate foodborne pathogens from heated food products and food surfaces. This paper is predominantly for high-end food producers, however, and so here’s a researcher who tackles the issue from a different angle. She uses best practices for food safety as an entry point to discuss how they might be applied in developing countries.

Use safe water and raw materials

The WHO highlights safe water and raw materials will help in your fight against foodborne parasites. According to this study, once you’ve got that part down, you can eat all the German cheese you want. These researchers discuss the rigorous traditional processes that Germany’s fermented milk products must go through, suggesting that as long as high quality raw materials are used, you’re good to fill your stomach with cheesy goodness.

Feature image courtesy of JaBB