9 food safety tips to prevent food poisoning with catered food

The last thing you want at home parties and gatherings is an outbreak of food poisoning. With the recent case of food poisoning from popular local eateries Tung Lok and Spize, it is a reminder to minimise the risk by practicing food safety guidelines. Here are nine to watch out for:

1. Choose NEA-licensed caterers

Order food from licensed food caterers, preferably those with a good hygiene grading. The list of caterers can be found on the National Environment Agency’s (NEA) website.

2. Store hot and cold food at the right temperatures

Keep hot food at a minimum temperature of 60 C and cold food below 5 C. Food-borne pathogenic bacteria multiply quickly between 5 deg C and 60 deg C. Hence, food should not be kept at room temperature for more than four hours from the time it is cooked to the time it is consumed. This includes the time that is taken to pack and transport the food. Food kept at ambient temperatures for more than four hours could result in the bacteria multiplying to reach sufficient levels that could cause food poisoning when consumed.

3. Check if the food comes with a timestamp label

Caterers are required to provide a timestamp label on packed cooked meals. The label should contain the date and time the food is cooked and when it should be consumed by. It is an offence to remove or alter the timestamp label.

4. Packed meals should come in hot or insulated boxes

Packed cooked food should be delivered in hot or insulated boxes and bags. In addition, food should be collected and consumed at about the same time, as heat is lost rapidly once the insulated boxes or bags are opened. If necessary, make arrangements for food to be delivered at staggered timings.

5. Discard all uneaten food

Uneaten food should be discarded and not packed for consumption at a later timing. To prevent food waste, consumers should also refrain from over-ordering. Another option is to downsize the portion of each dish if there are a variety of dishes served.

6. Specific guidelines for eggs

Eggs may contain salmonella bacteria that can cause food-borne illnesses. To avoid this, ensure that egg shells are clean and not cracked when you receive them. Bacteria can enter eggs through fissures in the shells. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before and after handling eggs. Cracking many eggs in a bowl together poses a higher risk of contamination, so make sure you do that just before use and cook them thoroughly.

7. Specific guidelines for fruits

Discard rotten or damaged fruits and wash your hands and utensils thoroughly with soap and water before and after handling fruits. Wash them thoroughly under running water before peeling or cutting them, and wear clean gloves for the latter. Cut fruits should be eaten promptly or refrigerated at 4 deg C and below. Cut fruits left at room temperature for more than two hours should be discarded.

8. Specific guidelines for vegetables

Remove soiled portions of vegetables, such as the base with roots, and wash away residual soil with tap water. Washing them thoroughly with clean running water helps remove dirt, bacteria or chemical residues. Soak vegetables in fresh tap water for 15 minutes, and rinse them again before cutting them and cooking. Scrub potato skins gently with a clean brush while rinsing with running water. Do not store fruits and vegetables together in the same storage compartment as fruits can cause green vegetables to turn yellow. When cutting vegetables, use a separate clean chopping board that you do not use for raw food.

9. Specific guidelines for steamboat

Be aware of the appearance, smell or texture of the ingredients in steamboat. If it appears to be turning bad or has spoiled, tell the retailer. Do not use your bare hands to handle food at self-service counters. Use only designated utensils provided to handle specific food items to prevent contamination. Use separate tongs and utensils for raw and cooked food. Cook food thoroughly before eating it, as undercooked food can contribute to a higher risk of food poisoning. There are three practices that often lead to cross-contamination or undercooked food: When the hot pot is overloaded so that the soup base does not come to a boil; adding raw items into a pot of cooked food; and placing raw food next to cooked food on a hot plate.

A version of this story first appeared in the Singapore Women’s Weekly.