6 tips to avoid health risks through food in summer

With the end of the winter season in Nepal, the sun is shining and the rising temperature. The incidence of foodborne illnesses also increases with increasing temperature because harmful micro-organisms/bacteria (eg: Salmonella, E.Coli) grow faster in warmer temperatures than in colder climates.

Prolonged storage of processed foods in the open air creates an unsafe environment, which increases the risk of food spoilage. Therefore, it is important to pay special attention to food hygiene when we eat processed food/snacks indoors or outdoors during the summer months.

Similarly, the following precautions can be taken to stay safe from problems caused by the use of unsafe food in summer, such as diarrhoea, stomach ache, nausea, indigestion, headache, fever, food poisoning, etc.

Store at a suitable temperature

For foodstuffs, the temperature range generally between 5 and 60 degrees Celsius is known as the ‘danger zone’, the temperature at which pathogenic bacteria can grow comfortably. Therefore, as much as possible, perishable products such as fish, meat, milk and dairy products, fruits, vegetables and processed foods should be kept cold/refrigerated.

Cooked foods should not be kept at room temperature for more than two hours, and food should be consumed within those hours.

Special emphasis on cleanliness

In summer more hygiene practices should be followed than in winter to prevent food contamination. Everything needs to be kept clean from the start of cooking to the disposal of leftovers.

It is essential to have good practices before consuming any food. Actions like washing your hands thoroughly and frequently, washing all utensils you use for cooking before using them, washing processed foods as much as possible when transporting them from one place to another, using airtight containers, and always washing raw fruits and vegetables before eating them keep safe.

Avoid cross-contamination

The transfer of harmful micro-organisms from one food item to another food through a chopping board, or other utensils due to our carelessness during food preparation is called ‘cross contamination’.

To avoid cross-contamination, keep cooked and uncooked food items separately. Harmful microorganisms can grow easily in food items such as uncooked fish and meat. Then knives, chopping boards, spoons and other materials used for uncooked food should be kept separately. Cooked and uncooked food items should be kept in separate containers so that they do not mix, even in the refrigerator, cooked and uncooked food items should be covered in separate sections as much as possible.

Take special care when eating street food

Street food items
File: Street food items

Even though street food is not monitored in Nepal yet, it is very popular among Nepalis, especially children, youth and women who are fond of foods like panipuri, chat, chatpatte, sausage, momo, Thukpa sold on the roadside.

Most street food vendors in Nepal rarely use clean water. Hence they lack hygiene and their utensils are also not properly cleaned, so it can be easily assumed that there is a lot of risk in terms of food hygiene.

Therefore, while eating street food in the summer months, one should choose vendors who prepare food in front of one’s eyes, considering whether the vendor maintains proper hygiene standards, clean utensils, water, raw materials, etc.

Use of safe water and food

Uncooked food including water and ice may be contaminated with harmful pesticides and micro-organisms. Since the use of water and ice is more in summer than in winter, the use of safe water is very important.

In the same way, it is good to use pasteurised milk. Processed and preserved fruits and uncooked vegetables should be washed properly with clean water before consumption. To be safe, we should not eat foods that are expired. We should choose fresh and nutritious food and eat it only after proper washing and drying.

Cook/heat thoroughly

Vegetables, soups and other hot foods should be heated to 70 degrees Celsius. It should be heated to a higher temperature because cooking kills almost all the harmful micro-organisms and studies have shown that eating it does not harm one’s health. Special attention should be given to foods such as fish, meat and egg yolks, which are spoiled quickly during summer. Also, one should be attentive to cooking meals properly and thoroughly.

Even just by using the general formulas of food hygiene mentioned above, one can stay safe from food-borne diseases during the summer months to a great extent. If your food has been left out in the open for a while, it may not be safe to repack and eat later. So, do not hesitate to throw away any food that has been left out in the sun for too long in the summer.

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Joshi is a food research officer at the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development.

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