Food fed to small children may play a more important role than safe drinking water in the transmission of diarrheal diseases in developing countries. Normally, pathogens are not present in foods, therefore the contamination of food must come from contact with faecal material or microorganisms delivered by contact with contaminated hands, cooking surfaces and utensils, soil on the ground, or improperly cleaned dishes and cutlery. Kitchen hygiene practices can reduce this contamination of food and the transmission of disease.
The concentration of bacteria found in contaminated food is much higher than in water. The level of contamination of cooked food depends on the time between preparation and consumption - as bacteria can replicate rapidly in ambient temperatures. If cooked food is eaten within one hour of being prepared, it should be safe. Foods cooked in the morning for reheating at night may therefore be heavily contaminated with bacteria. Food must be reheated to above 60 degrees C in order to be safe to eat.
Handling food increases the risk of contamination; 14 – 79% of mother’s hands in developing countries have been shown to be contaminated with faecal bacteria. Utensils (bowls, cups and spoons) have been found to have very high levels of bacterial in village settings.
Water can become contaminated by contaminated hands. Using safe water containers that have a narrow neck, or a ladle to extract water from a container - prevents hands from contacting the water. Ensure that each member of the family washes their hands in a fresh bowl of clean water.
Animal faeces have been shown to harbor a number of organisms that may also be infective to humans. Animal dung in the environment also encourages fly proliferation. There are studies in developing countries that have shown an association between animal faeces and diarrhea. For example, Bukenya and Nkwolo (1991) found that children in houses which kept pigs had 69% greater diarrhea incidence than houses without. This problem can be mitigated by keeping animals out of the food preparation area and by using tables for preparation and cooking rather than working on the ground.
In situations of poverty and adverse environmental conditions, sustainable strategies for preventing diarrhea associated with contaminated foods may involve developing a protocol that permits the production of safe food in unsafe environments. Though a polluted environment poses many hazards for children’s food, the hygienic quality of prepared food can be assured if basic food safety principles are observed (Ehiri et al).
The contamination of food is affected by:
Quality of the raw, purchased products
- The type of food
- The temperature attained during cooking
- Storage time & storage temperature
- Storage method used
- The temperature attained during reheating for a later meal
- Bacterial content of cooking utensils and surfaces, and of feeding utensils
- Washing food in contaminated water
- The cleanliness of the hands of the food preparer
Kitchen Hygiene is just one part of Home Hygiene. What is does Home Hygiene include?
Hand hygiene and personal hygiene
- Food hygiene (cooking, storing, preventing cross contamination)
- Ensuring safe water at point of use
- Safe disposal of faeces (both human and animal)
- General hygiene (laundry, surfaces, toilets, baths, sinks)
- Disposal of solid waste
- Situations where there is more risk
- Care of those who are infected with a disease
Five keys to safer food:
1. Keep clean:
- Wash your hands before preparing food and often during food preparation.
- Wash your hands before eating.
- Wash your hands after going to the toilet.
- Wash your hands after changing diapers.
- Wash your hands after contact with pets or domestic animals.
- Wash and sanitize all surfaces, utensils and equipment used for food preparation – and for feeding.
- Use a table for food preparation rather than preparing food on the floor where feet may have tracked in faeces.
- To make a sanitizing solution mix 5ml of household bleach in 750ml water: use for utensils, surfaces and wiping cloths.
- Wash cutting boards and sponges with a dilute mixture of water and chlorine bleach.
- Regularly wash dish towels and sponges in a sanitizing solution.
- Protect kitchen areas and food from insects, pests and other animals.
- Keep food covered or in closed containers. Use a screened cabinet.
- Keep rubbish bins covered and remove rubbish regularly.
- Keep food preparation areas in good condition (repair wall cracks or holes).
Use baits or insecticides to trap or kill pests.
- Keep domestic animals away from food preparation areas.
- Install a concrete floor if you have an earth floor.
- Keep the inside of your home clean and litter free.
Keep the yard around your home clean and litter free.
2. Separate raw and cooked:
- Separate raw meat, poultry and seafood from other foods.
- Use separate equipment and utensils such as knives and cutting boards for handling raw foods.
Store food in containers to avoid contact between raw and prepared foods.
3. Cook thoroughly:
- Cook food thoroughly, especially meat, poultry, eggs and seafood.
- Bring foods like soups and stews to boiling to make sure that they have reached 70 degrees C. For meat and poultry, make sure that juices are clear – not pink. Ideally use a thermometer.
Reheat cooked food thoroughly – to a boil – or over 60 degrees C.
4. Keep food at safe temperatures:
- Do not leave cooked food at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
- Refrigerate promptly all cooked and perishable foods (preferably below 5 degrees C).
Keep cooked food piping hot (more than 60 degrees C) prior to serving.
5. Use safe water and raw materials:
- Use safe water or treat it to make it safe.
- Only use ice made with pure water.
- Select fresh and wholesome foods.
- Choose foods processed for safety, such as pasteurized milk.
- Wash fruits and vegetables, especially if eaten raw. Peeling foods may reduce risk.
- Do not use food beyond its expiry date.
Do not eat moldy foods.
Adapted from the World Health Organization: 5 Keys to Safer Food.
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Studies of food hygiene and diarrhoeal disease. Lanata CF. Instituto de Investigacion Nutricional, Lima, Peru..
Kitchen hygiene in daily life. R. R. Beumer and H. Kusumaningrum. Laboratory of Food Microbiology. Department of Agrotechnology and Food Sciences, Wageningen University, The Netherlands.
Domestic hygiene and diarrhoea – pinpointing the problem. Valerie Curtis, Sandy Cairncross and Raymond Yonli. London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK; 2 Regional Centre for Health Education and Sanitation, Ministry of Health, Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso.
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