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Health Tips: How to eat safely outside the home

How can I eat safely outside the home?  That is a question worth considering. At a recent medical conference in Kenya, about 50 delegates had to be hospitalized on account of food borne illness. The sporadic outbreaks of cholera and other food borne illness in developing countries such as Nigeria are a source of concern to several individuals who regularly eat out. Apart from dinning out, many attend parties and conferences where foods prepared by others are served.

Whether you are buying food from a vendor, or eating at parties, the basics of how to eat safely outside the home are the same.

It is nice to eat out from time to time.  Apart from meals, people also buy snacks, vegetables, fruits and water.  Do you think about how to eat safely when eating out?

Before buying meals be sure to consider the following:

Is the environment clean and hygienic?

If the eating area is dirty, that suggests that the kitchen would be worse. Is there a garbage disposal bin nearby?  Are there animals in the vicinity? If there are flies all over the place, does that not also suggest that food borne illness are likely to occur? Do you have any doubts about the safety of the food? Do not hesitate to leave.

What is the appearance of the person preparing or serving the food?

If dirty or unkempt, that suggests that the risk of food contamination is high. If the staff of a restaurant is not well cared for, is she more likely to look after your food well?  If one of the food handlers, also raises a child that has not been toilet trained within the premises of the eatery, she may also have to change diapers or handle faecal waste while processing food. Without proper hand washing, she may inadvertently put her clients at risk. This is one reason you always need to insist that food items or snacks  are not with bare hands.

Is the food hot or cold?

Heat kills bacteria and other germs. So, getting that meal hot is very reassuring. Generally, cold foods (e.g. coleslaw) should be very cold and hot food (e.g. stew) should be hot.  Lukewarm food may NOT be safe. If possible, avoid meals that have become cold and exposed.  Generally, foods exposed for more than two hours are considered unsafe.  Such foods sometimes appear ‘’tired’’ since it has been sitting at room temperature for a long time. Always go for foods that are hot. If you have to go home with leftovers, before they are stored or refrigerated within two hours.

Has the vegetable or fruit been peeled or processed?

This question applies if you are eating fruits directly. The peel of fruits like watermelon and pineapple is a protective covering that prevents contamination.  In many lands, fruits are cut into small sizes for convenience. So it is not unusual to see ‘’freshly’’ prepared slices watermelon or pineapple sold by the roadside in nylon bags. Can anyone be sure that such fruits were processed under hygienic conditions? No.  If the person preparing the fruits, handles money, wipes her hands on dirty clothes or touches any unclean surface while preparing it, the food may actually be unsafe.

All of us love tasty, well-prepared meals. Unfortunately, it may not be possible to know if a food item is contaminated just by considering its smell, taste or look. Therefore, taking these basic tips on how to eat safely would safeguard you from food borne illnesses.

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