Food safety at home

Marshalee Valentine

Thursday, November 01, 2018

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In an effort to promote food safety at critical points along the production and supply chain, we have been exploring preventative measures used to avoid contamination of our food. It is important to note that regardless of the amount of precaution you take when selecting your supplier of food, potential sources of contamination may be lurking in your own home; specifically, your kitchen. Food safety can only be guaranteed in our homes when food is handled safely before, during and after cooking. Remember, contamination may be introduced to our foods from bacteria, viruses, parasites, and chemicals. However, there are steps you can take to ensure that our kitchens consistently provide safe food for our families.

Waste Management

To begin with, ensure that you never store garbage or food refuse in your house. Empty garbage receptacles frequently and remove leftovers from kitchen counters and sinks. This will prevent infestation of your home from pests such as flies, rats and cockroaches that may contaminate your food.

Cleaning and Sanitation

We cannot stress how important this is in preventing food-borne illnesses. Firstly, wash your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds before handling food. If you have hot water available to you, then use warm water to wash your hands. Always wash your hands after using the bathroom, handling garbage and playing with your pets. Please try to avoid preparing food at home if you have diarrhoea, vomiting or open cuts and wounds.

Ensure all utensils, countertops, and cutting boards are washed with warm water before, during and after food preparation. An easy sanitiser can be made for your cutting boards and countertops with water and bleach. If cloth towels are used to clean surfaces, please keep them clean; however, you could opt to use using paper towels for cleaning up.

Remember, contaminated raw food can enter the home from the supplier of the supermarket, so ensure you wash them thoroughly before storing, cooking or eating.

Practise separation

Separation of raw meat, poultry and fish from produce and ready-to-eat foods must not only take place at the supermarket. Once you get home, ensure that you continue with the separation practices in your refrigerator and while preparing your meals.

•Never allow the juices from raw meat, poultry or fish to drain on your ready-to-eat foods. If possible, use a separate cutting board to prepare meat.

•If you have one cutting board at home — I suggest you use a plastic non porous one — use soap and bleach solution to sanitise before using to prepare other foods. Once a utensil or dish comes in contact with raw meat, it must be washed and sanitised before using it again.

•Jamaicans love to marinate their meats, and it would be a shame to discard all that spicy goodness after we have removed our meats from the raw sauce. If you're like me and love to throw it on for a little extra gravy, make sure you boil it for at least one minute before placing it on your cooked meat.


Harmful bacteria can be killed if foods are cooked to the correct temperatures. In a previous article we had mentioned high-risk foods such as eggs, raw and cooked meat and seafood that need to be cooked to the correct temperatures to ensure that any bacteria present are killed.

I recommend you try to acquire a thermometer — which must be kept clean — to measure the internal temperature of cooked foods to make sure they are cooked all the way through.

Here are a few specific temperature requirements:

Pork and ham to at least 145F (63C)

Pre-cooked ham to at least 140F (60C)

Poultry should be cooked to 165F (74C)

Ground meat to at least 160F (71C)

Ground chicken or turkey should be cooked to 165F (74C).

Eggs and egg dishes — Eggs should be cooked until yolk and white are firm and egg dishes to 160F (71C).

Leftovers and casseroles reheated to 165F (74C).

Care must be taken when food is prepared for a home event or dinner party. Try to use warmers if foods are going to be left out in the open for long periods and ensure that containers are always covered.

Seeing food go to waste, for me, is depressing. However, if you're unsure about how long your food has been stored out of the refrigerator, if it has a funky smell, if ready-to-eat food has raw meat juices all over it or if you see mould growing on your food, throw it out!


Once you get home from the supermarket be sure to place all temperature-sensitive foods in the refrigerator/freezer and ensure you check your labels for correct storage temperatures. Place all perishable food items in the refrigerator or freezer, within two hours of cooking. Do not overcrowd your refrigerator; there must be room for circulating air to keep your food safe.

Never defrost your food outside of the refrigerator — I used to be guilty of this one in particular — instead, defrost in the refrigerator or put your microwave on the defrost setting. Never allow your meats or leftovers to sit on the counter while defrosting.

If meats or dairy have been left outside the refrigerator for extended periods, throw them out. Toxins may have been released by bacteria on them that cannot be destroyed by cooking, refrigeration, or freezing.

Marshalee Valentine

CEO-Quality, Food Safety & Environmental Management Systems Consultant

Vally Consulting

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