Ready-to-eat Food – Prevention of Microbial Contamination at Home

The potential for microbial contamination from raw meat and poultry to ready-to-eat (RTE) fruit and vegetables at home is well recognised. It is important that all steps are taken during food storage and preparation to prevent such contamination from taking place. This includes ensuring that food handlers properly wash their hands before and after handling raw meat and poultry. Raw and RTE foods should be stored completely separated and the handler should decontaminate utensils like knifes, cutters, food processors and cutting boards between use (or have dedicated utensils and cutting boards for raw and RTE foods).

How to avoid cross-contamination in RTE fresh fruits or vegetables at home?

Tips that can help to prevent cross-contamination and minimize hazards to our food:

Good Practices During Shopping

  • Separate raw meat, poultry and seafood from RTE fresh fruits and vegetables in the shopping cart.
  • Keep the RTE fresh fruits or vegetables in different shopping bags to prevent the juices from the raw food from contaminating the RTE food.

Good Practices In Storage

  • Store raw food segregated from fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Place packages containing raw meat, poultry or seafood in plates before refrigerating. Where possible, place raw meats that has potential to drip juices, at the bottom shelf of the refrigerator so that the juices would not drip onto other food. Do not use the same plate that is used to hold raw meat, poultry or fish to place cooked food unless thoroughly washed.
  • Store fresh fruits and vegetables in clean plastic bags when not in use.
  • Keep fresh fruits and vegetables covered and elevated from the floor during storage and handling.
  • Place food that is likely to spill in a suitable covered tray or container and place it in the lower part of the refrigerator.

Good Practices In Food Preparation

Caution : Pay attention to personal hygiene during food preparation.

  • Keep hands clean by washing hands thoroughly with soap including fingertips before, during and after food preparation, and when changing tasks.
  • It is essential that jewellery worn on hands and fingers such as rings be removed before handling fresh fruits and vegetables as they may harbour pathogenic microorganisms.
  • Avoid touching your face, skin and hair or wiping your hands on cleaning cloth.
  • Cover any open wounds or cuts with waterproof bandages before preparing food.
  • Avoid preparing food for others if you are sick or has a skin infection.
  • Use separate utensils for preparing raw food and fresh fruits or vegetables, unless you thoroughly wash them prior to using them for RTE food.
  • Use different serving plates for raw food and fresh fruits or vegetables.
  • Ideally, use separate cutting boards and knives for cutting raw meat/seafood products and for cutting fruits and vegetables. Alternatively, wash cutting boards thoroughly between usage of raw food and RTE food. Replace cutting boards that become excessively worn out or which has developed difficult-to-clean grooves.

Wash and sanitize all equipment and utensils that came into contact with food with water and detergent between tasks and handling raw and RTE food. Some people prefer to use chemical sanitizers such as the common household bleach (like Clorox) or the more environmental friendly stabilized chlorine dioxide solutions (like Klorsafe-H).

  • After preparing raw food in a food processor, clean the equipment components thoroughly.
  • Keep all work surfaces clean between each task to remove all food residues, crumbs or spillage that serve as potential reservoir of bacteria.
  • Discard food that has dropped on the floor or the work table.
  • Regularly change, wash and sanitize cloths used for wiping tables or equipment. Do not use cloths for cleaning dirty areas to clean anything that may come into contact with food.
  • Do not recycle used food packaging and paper bags for storage of food.

Good Practices In Serving Food

  • Always use a clean plate.
  • Never place cooked food on cutting board or a plate that wa previously used to hold raw meat, seafood or poultry.
  • Wash fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly to remove soil prior to serving. Trim any bruised areas before eating to reduce the risk of consuming harmful pathogenic microorganisms which may be present in the food (there are no effective means of removing pathogens from cuts and bruises on fruits and vegetables (whether physically or chemically) unless you thoroughly cook them.

Good Practices In Storage of Leftovers

  • Refrigerate or freeze leftovers within two hours in clean, covered containers to prevent harmful bacteria from multiplying.
  • When in doubt, discard the leftovers. Don’t take the risk.

Reference:

Avoiding Cross-Contamination, Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore.

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