It is another season of feasting and merrymaking as the festive period sets in today with Christmas celebrations.
However, one of the major challenges that come with merrymaking and feasting is food poisoning. One in 10 people (600 million) globally fall ill after consuming contaminated food and 420 of them die every year.
Besides that, billions of shillings are lost through loss of productivity and medical expenses. Although food-borne diseases are encountered throughout the year, the festive season poses a bigger risk.
This is due to the high mobility of people and the increased purchase of food items from different vendors along the way, making it difficult to trace the source of the problem.
There is also an influx of food/drinks businesses, with many people not following health guidelines.
And due to the large number of customers, food vendors rarely take time to observe personal hygiene protocols and their mobile nature limits presence of hand/surface and utensils cleaning stations, clean toilet and waste disposal facilities.
Food-borne diseases go against the food security principle, which states that food should be safe, nutritious and of adequate amount. To minimise chances of food poisoning, one must adhere to good health practices.
They are ailments of infectious or toxic nature that are caused by consumption of contaminated food or drinks. The contaminants include bacteria species of staphylococcus, listeria, clostridium and salmonella.
There are also viruses such norovirus and rotavirus and parasites like giardia. Ready to eat food gets contaminated by preparer’s hands, by raw food ingredients or by contaminated environmental surfaces. Clinical signs of food poisoning include acute onset of nausea, vomiting, watery or bloody diarrhoea, stomach cramps, headache and fever.
It is mandatory for food sellers and their premises to undergo regular health checks. However, a recent study carried out among food handlers in an informal urban settlement in Nairobi indicated that only 7 per cent of those examined had a medical examination certificate.
In addition, 15.5 per cent of the food handlers tested positive for norovirus, a micro-organism associated with acute diarrhoea and vomiting. Although any food can be contaminated with the infectious agents, high-risk foods include meat and meat products, milk and milk products and raw vegetables.
To minimise chances of food-borne diseases this feasting season, observe the following:
Research has shown that if everyone routinely washed their hands, a million deaths a year could be prevented globally.
While this important act has been a challenge in the past, it is currently one of the easiest to do due to availability of hand washing facilities in all public places as a Covid-19 control measure.
Therefore, wash your hands after visiting the toilet, handling raw foods, handshakes (if possible, avoid them) and more importantly, before handling ready to eat food, vegetables and fruits.
Clean before peeling the outer cover of fruits, wash vegetables thoroughly and chopping boards and cutting utensils should be cleaned immediately after use.
Use safe water and raw materials
During the festive season, there is usually an influx of people from towns to rural areas where use of natural sources of water such as rain and river are common.
While the people in the rural areas might drink untreated water as over time they have developed immunity against germs in the area, outsiders should drink treated water. A cost-effective way of treating water is by boiling or adding purifiers.
Most micro-organisms thrive in temperatures of between 4 and 600c, a range referred to as the danger zone. To ensure that this favourable condition is disrupted, food should be properly cooked and consumed when hot.
Any leftovers should be given one or two hours to cool down and then refrigerated below 40c.Another favourable condition for bacterial multiplication is moisture. This implies that stews, especially those with meaty ingredients, are riskier than dry foods.
Thus, while you can enjoy cold or warm bread and chips and other foods with low moisture content, watery food purchased on transit should either be hot or have a fridge temperature.
If possible, avoid buying food while on transit. Instead, carry packed meals. Do not prepare, cook or serve food if you are unwell especially in cases of diarrhoea and vomiting.
Finally, seek medical care if you have digestive system ailments for prompt treatment. Your report can also aid in investigations that can save others. Remember, children below five years carry 40 per cent of the food-borne disease burden with over 125,000 deaths every year across the world.
Separate cooked and raw foods
Storing cooked and raw foods happen mostly in the refrigerator. The latter is likely to contaminate the former. Put them in different fridge compartments. In case they are in close proximity, then store them in containers or proper wrap them.