• 8/19/2015
    DOHA, 18 August, 2015: Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) is reminding residents to safeguard themselves against bacterial infections and foodborne diseases that usually occur in summer by practicing good food hygiene and avoiding eating contaminated food.
    According to Dr. Galal Saleh Alessai, Emergency Physician and Medical Toxicologist at the Emergency Department in Hamad General Hospital (HGH), one of the most common illnesses seen at the Emergency Department during hot summer months is food poisoning. “Food poisoning is an acute illness that occurs when bacteria, viruses or other germs are absorbed by food substances consumed by people,” Dr. Alessai explained, adding that bacterial growth in food is likely to occur when food is not kept cold enough.
    “Common signs and symptoms of food poisoning include nausea and vomiting, abdominal cramps or pain, diarrhea, fever or bloody stool, and in severe cases the person may go into shock and collapse,” Dr. Alessai mentioned.
    Although anyone can be affected by the illness, certain groups of people are at an increased risk and should be extra cautious. “Elderly people, pregnant women, children under five years of age, people with a serious illness or disease such as diabetes, people with a compromised immune system, or those taking medication such as steroids, antibiotics or antihistamines, or people who travel frequently are at a greater risk of contracting the illness,” Dr. Alessai highlighted.
    HMC’s Food Hygiene Supervisors, Mr. Joegi C. Ramos and Mr. Ginesh George, explained that temperature and time are the two most crucial factors leading to bacterial growth in food. When preparing food, people should be mindful of the temperature danger zone for potentially hazardous food, which ranges from five to 63 degrees Celsius. They must be vigilant to take extra care along the food chain process to avoid food poisoning or foodborne diseases and food spoilage.
    Mr. Ramos explained that any cooked food, particularly if high in protein, should not be exposed to these temperatures for more than two hours, as this will result in multiplication of microorganisms that are responsible for food spoilage and foodborne illnesses. “During this time, the risk of physical contamination also increases through the possibility of insects or human contact. If the time and temperature guidelines are not adhered to, presence of moisture and water activity may build up in the cooked food, increasing the possibility of the food becoming microbiologically contaminated and or becoming spoiled. “It is therefore recommended not to leave cooked or any ready-to-eat food under room-temperature for a long period of time to avoid contributing factors such as time-temperature abuse and moisture that possibly allow the growth of bacteria,” Mr. George said.
    “While there may be many other factors that contribute to food contamination and allows the onset of this illness, some of the significant ones are microbiological factors caused by bacteria such as Salmonella found in raw meat, milk, eggs, and poultry, Bacillus Cereus found in cereals, rice, herbs, and dried foods, and Vibrio Paraheamolyticus found in different kinds of seafood,” he added.
    Mr. Ramos stated that if certain food products are not handled properly during processing, they could be considered to be at high-risk of causing food poisoning and foodborne diseases. “Raw food, ready-to-eat food, all cooked meat and poultry, or any food that is rich in protein when extremely exposed for significant amounts of time to the temperature danger zone could cause food poisoning. Also, improperly stored cooked-chilled meals and stock, unpasteurized dairy products, mayonnaise, homemade ice-cream, and even hummus are also deemed to be at high risk of causing food poisoning. The proper way of handling food is to ensure hot food is hot and cold food is cold,” he added.
    The food hygiene supervisors mentioned a few important steps for preventing food contamination. “The most important thing is to cook food to be consumed on the same day. Cooking in advance, for instance for lunch or dinner parties the next day, is not advised, mainly because storing cooked food correctly is something that people often ignore,” Mr. George said. “When storing food items in the refrigerator, make sure you place high-risk foods, including cooked meals on the top shelf, and place raw items toward the bottom to avoid cross-contamination.”
    Improper thawing or defrosting is another important aspect that people often overlook. “Most of the time, people tend to defrost frozen chicken in the kitchen sink under running water. It is important to check the temperature of the water which should not be above 21 degrees Celsius. It is highly advisable to use cold running water for this purpose,” he said. “Also ensure your frozen item is not removed from its packing or cover. If it remains sealed, chances of any contamination are more easily avoided, and its nutrient content is most likely preserved. The best practice of defrosting frozen food is by leaving it overnight in the refrigerator.” Mr. Ramos said.
    While cooling prepared cooked food, George advised using the ice-bathing procedure so the time of exposure under room temperature is lessened. “If you are cooking a solid item, make sure you cut it into small pieces, place it in a shallow container, close the container, and put it in the basin with crushed ice or chilled water under it. This will speed up the cooling process. Storing hot cooked food directly in the refrigerators is not advisable;” he said.
    Both food hygiene supervisors stressed that good personal hygiene practices are of utmost importance to avoid any kind of food contamination. “This is not just limited to hand washing but also includes making sure the person preparing food is well groomed and healthy. Covering hair for instance while cooking is highly encouraged as fallen hair in the food can also cause physical contamination,” George said, adding: “Other things to remember include making sure the table or counter where food is being prepared is kept clean as well as the kitchen tools or equipment being used; in addition to making sure that the kitchen is pest-controlled and well managed.