Food safety week comes home

How often have you blamed a restaurant meal or a takeaway for causing you an upset stomach?

Food businesses in South Ayrshire are regularly inspected by the council and, generally, the standards are good.

But can the same be said of your own kitchen and food preparation habits?

In fact, the cause of your gippy tummy might be closer to home and this is the theme during Food Safety Week 2011, which runs until next Sunday, June 12.

This week Councillor Peter Convery, Portfolio Holder for Sustainability and the Environment, said: “Studies by the Food Standards Agency [FSA] show more than half of us believe food is safe to eat just by its appearance or smell.

“This is wrong. Dangerous food bugs like e.coli and salmonella don’t always make food smell ‘off’ and do not affect the appearance of food.

“It’s a cause of concern for the council and we’re supporting Food Safety Week by focusing on what goes on in people’s own homes when preparing and cooking food.”

In the FSA survey, people were asked to consider a number of statements about food. More than a third - 37 per cent - thought that ‘use by’ dates were put on food packaging to encourage shoppers to throw it out, so they have to buy more.

However, the ‘use by’ date is required by law and is an important indicator of how long a food will remain safe to eat.

Other dates that also appear, such as ‘best before’ and ‘sell by’ dates, relate to the food’s quality rather than its safety.

The FSA survey also revealed one in 10 people believing that if you drop food on the floor it is safe to eat as long as you pick it up within five seconds.

In fact, there is no five-second rule, or any safe period, because food will instantly pick up harmful bugs if dropped on the floor.

And according to the South Ayrshire Scottish Conservative councillor: “Some people are putting themselves and their families at an unnecessary risk of food poisoning thanks to some commonly held food safety myths.

“Some of these myths might surprise us. For example, plastic chopping boards are not more hygienic than wooden ones but three in five of us think they are.

“Both can harbour germs if they aren’t cleaned properly after use.

“A fifth of people thought you only get food poisoning from the last thing you ate. The truth is that food poisoning symptoms can take two weeks to develop.

“Most surprising of all, nearly two thirds of us think you need to wash chicken and poultry before you cook it.

“But doing this could splash food poisoning bacteria around the kitchen making it a more dangerous environment. Cooking chicken thoroughly is the only way to kill any bacteria.”

Overall the FSA survey showed people over the age of 65 most likely to believe many of these food myths, which is worrying as they are more likely to end up in hospital than younger people.

Added Mr Convery: “Getting food poisoning is an utterly miserable experience but for some people can be very dangerous and maybe even fatal.

“Every year in the UK there are a million cases and I’m proud South Ayrshire Council is supporting Food Safety Week, so we can do our bit in getting people to think about what they do in their kitchen and how to separate good food fact from bad food fiction.”