/ Food & Drink, Health

How many kitchen crimes are you guilty of committing?

kitchen crimes

Are you committing ‘kitchen crimes’ at home that could risk food poisoning? Guest author Geoff Ogle from Food Standards Scotland explains why we should all be checking our food safety habits.

When we eat out, we all expect the highest standards of food hygiene, but what happens in the home when some of the same risks apply?

The reality is that when we’re busy, it’s more likely that undesirable food safety habits can creep in when we’re preparing food for ourselves and the family.

What’s your biggest kitchen crime?

We recently launched a new campaign to raise awareness of these habits, by bringing to life 20 Kitchen Crimes.

For example, our Food in Scotland tracking survey shows that on average, people in Scotland are undertaking 11 out of the 20 food safety behaviours we’d like to encourage people to follow at home. Which means we’re all committing an average of nine ‘kitchen crimes’ in our home.

The sorts of food safety ‘crimes’ we’ve identified are:

  • The fridge mingler – someone who doesn’t keep cooked and uncooked food separated in their fridge;
  • The fridge stuffer – someone who crams their fridge full of food which raises the temperature, allowing food poisoning bacteria to grow more quickly;
  • The multi pinger – someone who thinks it’s ok to reheat leftovers more than once;
  • The ham sniffer – someone who thinks they can tell if food poisoning bacteria are present by smelling the food, instead of trusting the use-by date on the packet. You can’t smell or taste harmful bugs like Listeria, which can grow in many perishable foods such as cooked sliced ham. The ‘Use-By’ date is there to tell you how long the food will stay safe; and
  • The five-second believer – someone who drops food on the floor but eats it anyway. E. coli and other bacteria can transfer from surface to surface pretty much instantaneously.

Do you recognise any of these habits… and are you guilty of them? Most people don’t believe they can get food poisoning in their own homes. Although healthy adults might get away with just a bit of a dodgy tummy, young children under five and people over the age of 65 might experience much worse, and that’s what we’re keen to highlight.

Changing habits of a lifetime

Old habits can be risky when it comes to the safety of our food. There are an estimated 43,000 reported cases of foodborne illness, 5,800 GP visits and 500 people needing hospital treatment annually in Scotland alone. So, food poisoning really does extend past just a ropey tummy for some of us.

We want these kitchen crimes to make people smile, but also convey a serious message so that people recognise the habits they have. Many of these we learned earlier in life, so it’s vital to understand why we need to make a few small changes, to keep ourselves and our families safe.

So how many of the 20 crimes do you think you’re guilty of? Watch our campaign video and use our Kitchen Crime checker to find out.  Go on – I challenge you to check your food safety record – and then share your results with us below.

This is a guest contribution by Food Standards Scotland’s Chief Executive, Geoff Ogle. All views expressed here are Geoff’s own and not necessarily also shared by Which?.

Which food safety 'kitchen crimes' are you guilty of?

Judging sell-by and use-by dates by smelling the food (24%, 411 Votes)

Dropping food on the floor, but eating it anyway (22%, 381 Votes)

None of these (21%, 352 Votes)

Stuffing the fridge full and allowing the fridge's temperature to rise (13%, 227 Votes)

Mixing cooked and uncooked food in the fidge (11%, 180 Votes)

Reheating leftovers more than once (9%, 159 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,080

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Comments

Meat well within its sell-by date can smell off, so I always sniff it when I open the packet, whether it is pre-packed or just brought back from the butcher. If it doesn’t smell fresh, it goes back, simple as that.

Never heard of people thinking they can smell bugs though.

I also put covered tins in the fridge but do think they should be used by the next day.

I know what you mean, Alfa, and I occasionally dispose of meat that does not smell right. It might be due to chemical changes, harmless bugs or dangerous ones but with no way of knowing the best option is not to use it.

When I make soup or a casserole I often divide it into portions and put some in the freezer and some in the fridge as soon as they have cooled to room temperature. What goes in the fridge is thoroughly heated the next day. If there is a surplus, the food is allowed to cool and thoroughly heated the next day. That means that it has been reheated twice.

I don’t see any risk in what I do because I take care to reheat food thoroughly. Reheating food in a microwave at full power and failing to stir it is a recipe for inadequate reheating. Though I think the advice about reheating twice is flawed it’s probably useful advice.

I once had a flatmate who would cook up a pan of mince. Then for the rest of the week, he would add something to it, heat it all up, take out a portion, let it cool down then repeat.

I was always surprised he didn’t get ill.

Many years ago, a friend used to make a large pan of soup in a pressure cooker and reheat what remained thoroughly each day for about five days. I was not impressed but because it was reheated thoroughly I don’t think there was a problem. He was a microbiologist and knew that bacterial spores can be killed in a pressure cooker. Boiling food can activate spores, so they can start to grow when the temperature falls below 50°C or so. Electricians and others do all sorts of things that are inadvisable but don’t come to grief because they understand what they are doing.

Could there be a prion issue?

Cooking does not destroy prions, so I can’t see how reheating would be relevant. It’s fascinating that prions are proteins yet not denatured by heat.

Do they succumb at any temperature?

I don’t know but denaturation of proteins depends on pH and ionic strength, so any figures that don’t mention the conditions might not be useful. I think you will find something in the New Scientist archive and I know we are off-topic.

I’m a squeaky clean keen bean according to the Kitchen Crime checker (watch, pride comes before a fall, I’m in for a cropper), but I’m a multi pinger. Like Wavechange, however, I let food cool down properly before storing in the fridge and then reheat it thoroughly before eating it again.

Another point worth watching is the temperature of the fridge. I am surprised that many models don’t include a thermometer. I keep mine as cold as possible without freezing the contents.

I always disagree with my other half about not refrigerating leftovers. While he seems perfectly comfortable with leaving a leftover roast dinner on the counter overnight, I’ll plate it all up and clingfilm it 🙈 I hate throwing food away, but don’t want to risk food poisoning either!

I’ll put you in charge of the kitchen, Lauren.

I had not looked at the links when I posted my comment about fridge temperature. It’s at the top of the list.

Patricia says:
27 January 2018

Counter? Do you live in a shop?

I believe ‘counter’ was the traditional name for a level surface above a set of cupboards or drawers. Its most common application was indeed in shops but the term ‘worktop’ for domestic applications is much more recent. I have always called ours the counter; in an ideal world I would have a cash register on the end of it.

I can remember then being called counters. Of course, as a child I can only remember being thrown scraps in’t back yard.

Phil says:
28 January 2018

Luxury.

We had to fight each other for what the dog wouldn’t eat.

As we are out many evenings we tend to eat bought pre-prepared food and decent ready meals. Usually a lightish meal before we go (Coronation chicken tonight) and a snack or pud when we return late (bread and butter pudding last night) so we rarely have traditional leftovers. My favourite leftover is the remains of a rare beef joint after a weekend roast dinner.

Our menu choices on a particular day are often resolved by going by the “use by” or “best before” dates which saves too much indecision.

We have two food faults: forgetting about cheese until it shows unnatural vegetation, and also forgetting about vegetables in the drawers at the bottom of the fridge.

However, a real deficiency is a lack of fridge thermometers. I don’t know why digital ones aren’t incorporated as standard. With a birthday coming up and, until now, no ideas on what to receive, I’ll put 3 of those on my list (one fridge, 2 fridge freezers to service).

Not sure you can have ‘pre-prepared’…

pre-prepare
VERB
[WITH OBJECT]
usually as adjective pre-prepared
Prepare or produce (something, especially food) in advance.
‘a takeaway or pre-prepared meal’

…presumably as in “previously prepared” but not “prepared prepared”…

I hope fellow pedants noted my recent reference to “PA Testing” (not “PAT testing”, not withsanding that this particular skirmish is long since lost).

From the OED:

verb [with object]
Make (something) ready for use
(as adjective prepared) created in advance; pre-planned
• make (food or a meal) ready for cooking or eating: she was busy preparing lunch.

The etymology of ‘prepare’ is interesting: it comprises two Latin terms – Prae, meaning ‘before’ and Perare, meaning ‘to make ready’. Logically, to use ‘pre-prepared’ would mean you’re making something ready before you make it ready – which doesn’t make a lot of sense. I’ve noticed the term ‘pre-prepared’ creeping in quite a bit, but to me it seems to belong in the same camp as ‘falling down’ or ‘rising up’.

Derek – I will take your example of PA Testing to The Lobby for further discussion.

Patricia says:
27 January 2018

Same as you can’t prebook. Some, nay many, people don’t think about what words actually mean. If you can’t do it after the event you can’t predo it. They probably the same people who talk about advanceD booking.

The argument against reheating food more than once is a too sweeping generalisation and not soundly based on microbiology. The traditional stock pot, thoroughly reheated daily, was used for centuries without problems. Certain sensitive bacterial growth media, which will not stand autoclaving, were always sterilised by heating to boiling on three successive days. The important thing is that the reheating is thorough and complete (which will rarely be achieved in a microwave oven). It is also imperative to cover it and cool food fairly rapidly so it is not sitting around warm (but don’t put hot food in the fridge – it will warm everything else, so cool it some other way first, for example stand a pan in cold water). Lauren is quite right about not leaving cooked food sitting around in a warm kitchen overnight – the time between being hot enough to kill bacteria and cool enough to prevent growth of pathogens needs to be kept as short as possible.

With regard to having the fridge full, there is no harm in having a full fridge provided that it wasn’t all put in at once on a hot day, so that the new food raises the temperature significantly, and there is still room for air to circulate. In particular the fridges with a cooling plate on the back wall need care to make sure things don’t get pushed back against it, which has two bad effects, the things touching it freeze and the rest can get too warm.

I’m not clear what is meant by “mixing cooked and uncooked food in the fridge”. Most of us don’t have two fridges and provided measures are taken to prevent cross contamination (such as ensuring blood etc from packs of meat can’t get on anything else and taking precautions against bacteria on the outside of packs of meat contaminating food which might not be cooked before being eaten) obviously we have to store both in the same fridge. It is equally important that uncooked meat, even if packaged, is not carried home in contact with food which won’t be cooked.

Peter – As I said above, I’m not concerned about reheating food more than once. The important point is that it is reheated properly each time. The process of heating to boiling point three times is called Tyndallization and is described in Wikipedia and elsewhere. (Nowadays, bacterial growth media that would not withstand autoclaving would be filter-sterilised)

I agree with you that overfilling a fridge might not be a problem. Perhaps the main risk is that it’s difficult to see what needs to be used up in a full fridge.

Peter, it means that cooked meats such as ham for example, should be kept on a different shelf to raw meats. Preferably raw meats on the bottom shelf for the exact reason you suggest, that blood and or juices from raw meat does not drip onto other foods and contaminate it.

Mags says:
24 January 2018

Not sure if this is relevant, I don’t keep eggs in the fridge or cheese either unless it is sweltering summer weather, after all supermarkets don’t refrigerate eggs – any thoughts?

Hmmm, I’m not sure what the rules are on this. I keep my eggs on the side. Cheese always goes in the fridge in my house. What type of cheese do you have?

Keeping eggs in the fridge does extend their life but I don’t know whether the ‘use by’ date on the box allows for this or is based on room-temperature storage.

This morning I had two boiled eggs from a box kept in the fridge marked with ‘use by’ 17 Jan 2018. They seemed to be perfectly alright.

It’s best to take eggs out of the fridge an hour before boiling them so the shells don’t crack when you pop them in the pan.

I find the best way of keeping cheese good to eat from the fridge is to remove the vacuum-packed wrapping and enclose it in aluminium foil and put it inside a plastic box. If it starts to get a little bit gruesome around the edges you can pare it on all sides but its flavour might have become different by that stage.

Supermarkets now have an annoying habit of supplying cheese in flat slab form. The blocks are two wide to cut easily on the two faces and too narrow for cutting sandwich slices on the long and short edges.

Alex says:
27 January 2018

When I was at school, long before any of this stuff was dreamed up, we were often served boiled eggs, and it was extremely obvious if the egg was too old – hold your nose (no risk of eating it accidentally)…

Patricia says:
27 January 2018

Eggshells are porous so eggs should always be kept cold, which these days means in the fridge. However very few are really fresh when bought. If both white and yolk are very runny when raw they’re not fresh. If when hard-boiled the skin comes off easily with the shell they’re not fresh. Given the type of nasties that eggs may contain it’s best not to eat them at all.

As Patricia says egg shells are porous. I tend to put mine in the fridge during summer months but leave them on the side in the colder months. Apparently one way to tell if an egg is still fresh enough to eat is to put it in a jug of cold water. If it sinks it is still fresh enough to eat, if it floats (air has got in), so it is not. As I do not like runny eggs, I tend to go by this method even if they are a couple of weeks past their use by date. I like them well cooked so only eat them as hard boiled, as an omelette or scrambled.
As for cheese, I tend to keep it in the fridge, but one little tip I’ve noticed is when you open the pack, do not touch it with your hands. Leave enough of the original packaging on it to hold with one hand while you slice it with the knife, so you only touch the piece/slices you’re actually going to eat. Then put it, in it’s original wrapper, into another sealable bag, I find it lasts better that way. Although I have to say a block of cheese probably doesn’t hang around long enough in my house to go off 🙂 🙂

One crime that doesn’t exist is making your own sandwiches. “Adisa Azapagic of the University of Manchester, UK and her colleagues have studied the carbon footprint of the 11.5 billion sandwiches eaten in the UK each year. They worked out how much greenhouse gas is released by making 40 types of sandwich. Overall, they found that the UK sandwich industry releases the equivalent of 9.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.” (NS)

Ten shop-bought sandwiches, compared by their carbon footprint (grams of carbon dioxide equivalent)

All-day breakfast 1441.3
Ham and cheese 1349.5
Prawn and mayonnaise 1254.7
Egg and bacon 1182.4
Ham salad 1119.1
Cheese ploughmans 1112.1
Sausage and brown sauce 1087.2
Double cheese and onion 1078.4
Cheese and tomato 1067.3
Roast chicken and bacon 1029.7

Food for thought…

I wonder where my home-made cucumber sandwidges would appear on the scale. Bread, spread and veg plus some refrigeration and washing up. It depends how far back you go in the production process – what about the energy used to plough the land to grow the grain, to harvest the wheat and cart it from Canada, and then mill it into flour and bake the bread.

More interestingly, the methods used to fertilise the ground prior to planting…

John – The New Scientist article mentioned by Ian states:

“In contrast, all home-made sandwiches – made with varying amounts of white bread, ham, cheese and mayonnaise – ranged in carbon footprint from 399 to 843.2. Only three ready-made sandwiches – egg mayonnaise and cress (739), tuna and sweetcorn (851.6) and chicken and sweetcorn (769.4) – came within this “home-made” range.”

In view of all the variable factors (Ian gives one example), I question the wisdom of giving the numbers to 4 significant figures. Definitely not up to what I have come to expect from NS.

I became lazy and bought sandwiches at one time but now make my own. The filling tends to fall out because mine are not glued together with mayonnaise.

That’s right Ian – and then you enter the methane component from the cows that eat the grass to produce the manure to spread on the fields, and then the later applications of liquid fertiliser and weed and pest control chemicals and the manufacturing inputs of the combine harvesters that spend 10 months of the years going rusty.

I don’t see any need for mayonnaise, Wavechange. The only way to improve a cucumber sandwich is to make a triple with Marmite in the second layer.

And I thought my tastes were recherché.

Phil says:
28 January 2018

So what do they propose we do about it? Stop eating?

It’s similar to the “research” done recently on footprint of microwave ovens. We have to cook food and if people didn’t use microwaves they’d use conventional ovens which are just as bad if not worse.

I hope that no-one is suggesting we don’t use microwave ovens for reheating but if you don’t use them correctly you can have food that is overcooked on the outside and cold or even frozen inside.

One aspect we should also take into consideration is how often people are ill resulting from “Food Poisoning”. I live on my own and probably at times commit all of the “offences” listed at the start of the article. I don’t think that I have ever been ill as a result of it.
Many of us are so obsessed with hygiene that they don’t build up resistance to infection.

Sylvia Wilson says:
27 January 2018

I quite agree with Ken and was glad, at last, to see someone say it. I am 84 and I feel that I have built up my immunities by not being so obsessed with hygiene, although I do use common sense.

Ingrid Ehrlich says:
27 January 2018

Ken is absolutely right. As the daughter of a physiologist, and having Bacteriology as part of my degree, I have NEVER fussed about hygiene. After the age of 9 months, all my 50+yr old children were licking toys, the floor, garden soil etc, and only perhaps once in their lives ever had stomach trouble. Quite possibly I am instinctively hygienic, but we eat food out of its use-by date, food that has dropped on the floor, reheated food etc. Raw meat is usually in the freezer until thawing and cooking, cold meat hardly spends more than a day uneaten, yoghurt, by the way, is good for at least 3weeks. I have a daughter-in-law who cares/fusses about hygiene, whose children have stomach trouble at least once a term. My father always said that worry about germs was usually worse than germs.

Ron Atkinson says:
27 January 2018

Please advise me as to why microwave re-heating is inadequate. For years I’ve frequently plated up leftovers and re-heated until the product, usually veg but sometimes with fresh meat or fish added, is steaming and the meat cooked. No illness yet but I would like to know about the microwave question.

Ron – When reheating food it needs to be heated sufficiently to kill bugs. When using a pan it is normal to stir it and that makes sure that the food is heated throughout. Using a microwave oven it is easy to have the outside of the food boiling hot and the inside cool or even still frozen if heating food that is has been frozen. As Beryl has suggested below, stirring the food is essential to make sure that it is hot throughout.

I usually reheat food in the microwave, but use low power, which gives time for heat to penetrate. That’s in addition to stirring.

Margaret Roberts says:
27 January 2018

I always follow the guidelines for microwaving that have been in the guidelines/instructions, always stir, and nowadays use a food thermometer to ensure re-heated/cooked solids are well over 60′

Why is microwaving inadequate for re-heating cooked foods?

There are many reasons for the difference in immune responses, some have a genetic predisposition, and some are environmental. Ongoing research into autoimmunity has led me to discover inherent changes that take place over time in the gut, some unsymptomatic for years until one reaches old age, to research into ‘C-section births cause changes that may increase odds for developing disease in later life.’ See: science daily.com.

Microwave reheating from frozen is safe if you follow the instructions on the packaging, ie food is piping hot and sometimes it needs to stand for a minute, and also the microwave wattage. Reheating leftover cooked food would depend upon how long it has been left standing to cool before putting it in the fridge. If you reheat it using the above method I would have thought it perfectly safe, but it is important to stir it halfway through so that the heat is evenly distributed as would be the case if you used a pan on the hob, I have done this many times without any trouble.

PS I would never reheat anything twice either way!

Wave might be able to add to this, but I did wonder if it’s because a microwave only heats to around 100C, which doesn’t destroy all microorganisms, I believe. Although how many extremophiles will find their way into your home made soup I couldn’t imagine.

100C is the boiling point of water. The key seems to be the importance of stirring. See: en.m.wikipedia -Microwave oven.

I’m sure Wave will pick up on my asymptomatic mistake 🙂

It’s simply a matter of making sure that food is uniformly heated, Ian. Stirring is an easy way of achieving this. It’s easy to stir food in a pan but less convenient with a microwave oven. The Wikipdia article provided by Beryl explains the problems. Reheating at low power allows time for heat conduction (and convection in liquids) and has the additional benefit that food is less likely to be splattered on the inside of the oven.

I have never had a microwave oven that heated evenly.

My husband used to microwave frozen peas. One side of the dish would be boiling, the other side still frozen. I don’t know if he was ever ill, but he would not dare heat them like that now.

The point I was tentatively making is that 100C is not high enough to kill all microorganisms.

OK. here goes. There are some bacteria that will grow at 100°C or above, such as those that grow in hot springs. These are referred to as hyperthermophiles – a class of the extremophiles you mentioned. I am not aware that they have been implicated in food safety.

The usual concern related to bacteria that will survive boiling is those that can produce spores. This includes some species from the genera Bacillus and Clostridium. To take a well know example, rice is often contaminated by Bacillus cereus. Boiling it will kill the vegetative cells (the growing form) but not the spores (dormant form). The rice is safe to eat. Unfortunately, boiling also activates the spores, which can start growing if the rice is stored at 50-60°C, which is commonly done in restaurants. This has led to advice that rice should not be reheated. If rice is cooked and the surplus is cooled rapidly and stored in the fridge it should be as safe as other foods. Bacterial spores can be destroyed in a pressure cooker, but that’s not necessary unless bottling food for long-term storage.

On a related topic, boiling will not necessarily make food safe if it has been stored too long. We often think about food poisoning as an infection caused by bacteria, but some produce potent toxins that survive temperatures that will kill bacteria and spores. The notorious example is Clostridium botulinum, which produces the most potent toxin that exists.

I love sushi rice (the sticky stuff) but have read that some rice contains a very small amount of arsenic. Not sure if that applies to all rice Wavechange?

Apparently Ian, according to Wikipedia, the boiling point of water is 100C but it is lower with decreased atmospheric pressure found at high altitudes when it boils at 95C unless you use a pressure cooker!
Depending on the type of food and the elevation
the boiling water may not be hot enough to cook food properly. See: en.m.wikipedia.org – Boiling

I know you live up a mountain so thought you may find this of interest 🙂

Thank you, Beryl; it’s something – being a climber – of which I’ve long been aware. Interestingly, atmospheric pressure drops roughly 1mb for every 30 feet of height starting at msl, but slows off as you gain altitude, for obvious reasons. Our elevation is just under 1000′, so we also enjoy a lower temperature than most – around 4F. Of course, the plus side is the Katabatic effect, which warms us slightly in cold weather.

Beryl – There are standards that specify the maximum amount of arsenic and other undesirable materials in food. It’s not something I know much about, but here is some information about rice drinks and children: https://www.food.gov.uk/science/arsenic-in-rice

Water does boil at a lower temperature at reduced pressure and we can quote temperatures and holding times needed for safety, but I think the popular advice to heat food until it is ‘piping hot’ and stirring it to make sure that the temperature is uniform is good advice that everyone can understand.

Thank you Wavechange, it’s encouraging to note the FSA is closely monitoring and the rice packet contains nothing in bold letters. I acknowledge one can become too fastidious about the food we eat and the danger of crossing over the line into anorexia and bulimia. Food is, after all one of the pleasures of life.

More worrying is the hybridization and deamidation of wheat, although technically not genetically modified renders it inflammatory to susceptible humans and it is apparently on the increase, affecting autoimmunity and all parts of the nervous system, but I think this perhaps is another topic which belongs over in The Lobby.

The FSA provides some very useful advice but I’m disappointed that I could not readily find information about reheating temperature or the benefits of using low power when using a microwave to reheat food.

I’m sorry but I cannot help with the question on wheat.

Malcolm says:
27 January 2018

I’ve been committing many of your “crimes” for over 50 years and as CSNY famously said “never got sick once” what do you think I should do!? 5 seconds rule seems fine to me, especially with dryish food

martineramus says:
28 January 2018

Malcolm, look up toxocara, a source of serious roundworm infection that is found in dog faeces, and can lead to blindness in humans.
Anyone can inadvertently pick up these spores on their footwear after a walk in the park. The spores can then fall off your feet onto your kitchen floor.
Any food dropped on the floor, particularly if moist, will instantly – no delay whatsoever – be contaminated by this and/or any other bacteria there.
Though I agree that many fears regarding food hygiene are exaggerated today, the ‘5 second rule’ is dangerous rubbish.

If it drops on the floor it will pick up whatever contaminant it falls on immediately. Why risk it (unless its fillet steak then maybe a thorough wash and scrub could save you). But I do agree that in my young days we played in all sorts of stuff but washed afterwards. I’m sure we picked up some immunity that way, but we stayed clear of pet pooh.

I wonder how much infection from worms has reduced since dog owners were asked to clear up their pet’s mess?

When food falls on the floor it loses nothing but sometimes gains a little bit

There is an obvious difference between eating food that has fallen on the floor and cooking food promptly after it has been there. The latter is unlikely to cause a problem, though it happens so infrequently that I would chuck it.

Our kitchen floor is so clean you can eat your dinner off it.

There was a Which? Connect survey the other day about domestic hygiene and cleanliness and it will be very interesting to see the results [if people have been honest]. Questions like how frequently people clean their washing-up bowls, kitchen counters [worktops], toilet seats and pans, and TV remote controls, and when they replace pillows and mattresses.

Clutter is the enemy of hygiene but many kitchens I have been in have stuff hanging and standing all over the place – some of it because it is deemed to be trendy. Dust and cobwebs evoke no shame.

It would be instructive to find out how well the responses matched reality, John. It might demonstrate how worthless statistics can be unless backed by evidence.

Even the cleanest homes are not as clean as we might like them to be. Most bugs are harmless and those that are may not be a problem because our body can deal with small numbers. Putting a raw chicken that may be infested with campylobacter on a work surface that is not clean will not cause food poisoning, assuming that it is properly cleaned. On the other hand, if the work surface is then used to prepare a salad then you might be in trouble.

I don’t believe we need to go mad with antibacterial sprays (I never buy them) but I suggest that surfaces that have been in contact with raw meat are cleaned using a damp cloth and a little bleach. For the rest, a wipe over with a damp cloth and warm soapy water will do.

Food poisoning is caused by ingesting food or drink that is contaminated, so correct storage and handling of food are very important.

I have been looking into the antibacterial claims of Manuka honey and whether it kills good gut bacteria as well as bad when ingested. It’s apparent Ph 3.5 and high acidity when eaten raw can kill both good and bad bacteria as does antibiotics but not if mixed with a probiotic, so presumably, eating it raw on a regular basis could do more harm than good?

I have not looked at any scientific studies concerning manuka honey but the stomach provides a more acidic environment and is one of our defences against bacterial infection (less so for the many who take acid suppressant drugs). The pH scale is logarithmic and pH 3.5 is not very acidic.

The value of honey for treatment of burns has been investigated and a good starting point is the Cochrane review. I don’t know if there are good studies about the effect of honey on gut bacteria and I would be surprised if it had any contribution to preventing food poisoning.

It had never entered my head that people would put meat – raw or cooked – on a worktop. We put it on a dish which then goes in the dishwasher.

I think an over-reliance on sprays can lead to a false sense of cleanliness.

An obvious example is fresh chicken or frozen chicken that has been thawed, both of which may result in surfaces becoming contaminated with raw chicken juices. Maybe they don’t come with a wet plastic bag of giblets that needs to be set down somewhere….

Buying sealed plastic packs of raw meat that is ready for use in means less contamination of surfaces, but do we put the pack in the bin or rinse the container and put it in the recycling bin? And what happens to the piece of absorbent material intended to soak up meat juices?

At one time, fridges often had a ‘salad chiller’ at the bottom. It’s the best place for raw meat, providing that the temperature has been checked. It is not always cool enough, depending on the design of the fridge.

Andy says:
28 January 2018

I am bothered by the veracity of the sell-by date on packets of food. It often seems to have some date earlier than would normally be necessary and would seem to be a method used by manufacturers to get customers to throw away good, edible food so they buy more just to be sure its within date; also for suppliers to be sure that they fall well within any possibility of being sued for selling ‘off’ food. I also recall there being a TV programme where some food returned to the supplier was ‘repackaged’ with a new sell-by date.
As for the other ‘crimes’ I think I am guilty of most of them at some time or another but common sense should prevail at all times and in summer have the fridge setting at a lower level than in the winter. I agree about the inadequacy of microwaves on frozen food – and don’t like what microwaves do to some food molecules which are changed to less palatable kinds.

Only the ‘use by’ date should be heeded.

A ‘use by’ date relates to food safety.

A ‘sell by date’ relates to quality. Foods carrying these dates will not become unsafe to eat but might not taste very nice. Without it, we could be buying food that has been in storage for months or even years after they were produced.

I have had several arguments in shops about the term ‘best before’. Today being the 28th of January I take the view that anything still on sale today marked “best before 28:01:2018” is past its best and should be either withdrawn from sale or marked down, not for any food safety reason but because of the Trade Descriptions Act and the non-conformity of the offering with the retailer’s declared policy. I have never prevailed except, partly, when the fruit and veg team leader in Tesco’s told me the stock in question would be moved to the clearance section at 4:00 pm.

It’s all becoming very confusing, John. I have a bag of carrots marked with a date, accompanied by the message “Enjoy for longer if kept in the fridge”. That seems a reasonable way of avoiding waste. Another example is a pack of plums marked “Display until 17 Jan” and “Ripen at room temperature”. My kitchen is not very warm and it will be a few days more before said plums will have reached the required ripeness. Neither of these examples has a ‘Use by’ date.

If supermarkets were required to withdraw food from sale on the ‘Best before’ date or to discount the price it would mean more food waste or impact on profit and therefor push up prices, respectively. I’m happy with the present system and anyone who does not want to buy food on the ‘Best before’ date can simply check the date.

The present system is alright even though it agitates my pedantic nerve. I am all for avoiding waste, which in my view is largely caused by overstocking by the retailers – although I have noticed in these straitened times that Tesco and Sainsbury’s do sell out of some fresh produce lines quite early nowadays so they must be buying less stock in.

With fruit, I notice many customers are looking for the longest date whereas I look for short-dated stock so that we can eat it sooner. We have some pears ripening on the window cill that have been there since 22 January and are still too hard [ripen in two to three days it said on the wrapper!].

It must be very difficult to predict demand and I would not like the job of deciding how much produce to order. I have no idea if this is done automatically based on computer algorithms or done by humans. It is obvious that promotions could be used to encourage sale of surplus stock but it has become popular to have a member of staff checking dates, reducing prices and being surrounded by shoppers who seem to buy anything provided the price is right.

When one of my family worked for a supermarket in order control. They had as you would probably expect very sophisticated software to decide how many of what products should go to each individual store. it was based on a whole range of factors, including immediate weather, holidays, season of course, trends, past demand, Unless prepared to always under-order you can never prevent waste.

“Use by” dates are conservative – they are clearly not the last date on which the product can normally be used, if stored correctly. You need to use your judgement (as we did in the days before packaged food) to decide if something is fit to eat. The “use by” dates often help us to decide the menu on a particular day – saves humming and ha- ing about what we should have for dinner.

When I see a reduced sticker on produce I automatically assume it is very near or has reached its sell by date. Avocados can be purchased while they are still unripe and to speed up the ripening process you place them amongst a bowl of other fruit. You might try this with your pears sitting on your windowsill waiting for the sun to shine John and report back.

It’s even quicker to enclose them in a brown paper bag with a ripe banana, an apple or tomato as these fruits emit ethylene gas which is supposed to speed up the ripening process.

Thank you, Beryl. We are so well-stocked with fruit most of the time that waiting for the pears to ripen is not a problem. I think they’ll be ripe enough tomorrow. We waste almost no fruit or vegetables, or much else for that matter.

My approach is keep a mental note about what is in the fridge and when it should be used by. I expect that in future we will have phones linked to smart fridges to automate this, but I can cope at the moment.

Like Malcolm, the dish of the day can sometimes depend on stock rotation rather what I might have chosen, and thank goodness for the invention of the freezer.

The only problem with our freezer is not using whats in there.

I had that problem when I had a chest freezer. They are more economical to run but it’s easy to forget what is in there. The storage times for frozen food refer to quality rather than safety*, assuming the fridge is at the correct temperature (-18°C or below). For example, pork will taste rancid if stored too long and bread will become stale, but there is no risk of food poisoning.

*If a fridge-freezer is kept in a garage the temperature of the freezer compartment can rise because the thermostat is in the fridge. Some models are designed to avoid this problem.

My memory is not quite what it used to be and as I always keep a bottle of Aloe Vera juice on standby in the fridge, (excellent remedy for digestive problems) which tells me once opened it will keep for up to 2 months, I now stick a label on it to tell me when I opened it as if it goes over, it could create the very problem that it is supposed to fix.

Thats a good point, Beryl. The dates on packages refer to an unopened package. Long-life milk can be stored at room temperature for months but once it is opened it should be stored in the fridge and treated in the same way as fresh milk.

I confess to using long life milk when opened for longer than fresh milk as it never seems to curdle, which to me indicates it is still safe to use but have often wondered whether it really is, which begs the question, can long life milk go off even it doesn’t curdle?

I would expect it to last longer than fresh milk because it was sterile until opened, unlike fresh milk. There are many products that state they should be refrigerated after opening. How necessary this is will depend on the product and how it is treated. A jar of marmalade that is contaminated with toast crumbs is more likely to grow bugs than uncontaminated marmalade.

Don’t you decant a portion of marmalade into a dish or saucer before spreading it on your toast?

A very sensible suggestion, John.

Ooh no, no, no, John.

Clean spoon in the jar and lick it when finished = ZERO waste.

Let the cat lick it clean just to save on washing up – no wasted energy either

That was always the way hotels provided preserves. Now, like butter, many present minute portions in plastic or foil wraps, presumably for “H&S” reasons. Oh for the days……. We trade one unlikely problem for another hill of waste.

I don’t suppose anyone has suffered food poisoning because of toast crumbs in the marmalade, but surely it is common sense to use a clean spoon or knife. Condiment and sauce containers allow their contents to be dispensed without contaminating the contents but it’s more difficult with marmalade and butter.

Interesting suggestion, Bishbut, but our marmalade cat died a few summers ago so we have no spoon-licking facility now. We would still wash the spoon after the cat had licked it however. She also liked honey but Marmite did not appeal.

I stopped buying marmalade when I discovered the delights of stem ginger preserve which is supposed to contain antiseptic and antibacterial properties, so no worries about a few crumbs turning nasty. I do keep it in the fridge once opened.

My favourite, Beryl. But I didn’t know of its magic powers.

This summary looked at the effects of ginger etc. on E coli:https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16366855
” Commercial ginger paste and fresh garlic paste showed the strongest antimicrobial activity with complete inactivation of E. coli O157:H7 in the paste at 3 days at 4 degrees C and 8 degrees C.
I’m not keen on garlic. I wonder how the effects of paste and marmalade compare?

Maybe garlic helps protect us from infection because no-one is keen to come near. 🙂

The New Zealand government has tested 800 samples of honey from around the world to establish a scientific definition of genuine manuka honey and crackdown on alleged fakes.

Jars purporting to be New Zealand manuka were pulled from UK shelves – including at Fortnum & Mason – earlier this year when it was discovered they were fake amid a craze for the product, which is highly valued for its medicinal properties.” Guardian April 2017.

I know garlic works. We’ve used it for years and we’ve never had any problems with Vampires.