Health and Hygiene

The family that is healthy gains much more enjoyment and satisfaction from life than the one in which its members are ailing, at cross purposes with one another, and ignorant of how to keep fit and sociable. The health of a community depends largely on the mothers, and to a lesser degree on the fathers, since the doctors, hospitals and various medical services deal mainly with those whose health has deteriorated, and those who are sick and incapacitated.

The vast majority of people are born healthy and this good health needs constantly to be maintained against weather, infecting organisms, accidents, bad feeding customs, dirt, food shortages, and foolish traditions. In the battle for health the housewife is some-times at a loss as to what is the best way to deal with a situation. She cannot always trust old domestic customs because more scientific knowledge has shown that better health can be maintained by newer methods, and for her family's sake she must learn them and how to apply them.

Food Hygiene

The finest food in the world, selected with the greatest care to provide the family with a balanced diet of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and mineral salts can easily be ruined for human consumption by careless and unhygienic storage and preparation. Living creatures and plants are naturally able to ward off and combat many of the innumer-able bacteria and micro-organisms in the air and water around them, but non-living food-stuffs cannot do this and soon become contaminated unless they are protected in one way or another.

There are Five Main Points to Consider in Keeping Foods in Good Condition:

  1. General cleanliness;
  2. Moisture;
  3. Time;
  4. Temperature;
  5. Foods particularly vulnerable to bac-terial contamination.

If these points are all known and taken into consideration, the likelihood of food poisoning will be greatly reduced. Although it is almost impossible to have food entirely free from micro-organisms (some are not destroyed even after prolonged cooking), it is essential to keep contamination to a minimum.

The danger can be realised more clearly when it is known that a single micro-organism, in favourable conditions such as damp and warmth, can multiply to 2,000,000 in about seven hours. It is clear then that the sooner fresh food is cooked and eaten the more wholesome it will be.

Favourable conditions for the multiplication of bacteria are temperatures around 37° C (98' F) (about normal blood heat), unclean food, unclean surfaces used for pre-paring and storing food, powdered and dehydrated foods to which water (or moisture from damp storage) has been added, and other highly susceptible foods. It should be noted that foods which have been left on a shelf or cupboard for a few days and become infected with Salmonella, Staphylococci or Clostridium botulinum usually appear to be quite sound, but they are a potential danger. The bacteria Salmonella, of which there are some 150 varieties, is the most common food contaminant.

The Kitchen

As the kitchen is the main centre of food preparation, considerable thought and plan-ning should go into its design and layout. Most modern kitchens have easily cleaned surfaces throughout, with constant hot water, sound floors, and walls in good condition. All of these things are essential for good food hygiene. Many kitchens are still far from being ideal but, with the variety of new materials now available, any kitchen however antiquated can be made easier to keep clean with hard plastic surfacings such as Formica, with good quality paints, and with Vinyl and other composition floorings.

Floors.

Ideally these should be hard, easily cleaned and vermin-proof. Wooden floors absorb water, are dusty and can harbour vermin: they should therefore be covered. Linoleum, though cheap, will not wear so well as Vinyl floor coverings, quarry tiles or some of the new composition tiles which make attractive easy-to-clean surfaces.

Walls.

These should also have easily washed, hard surfaces. Eggshell paint or tiles in conjunction with an absorbent ceiling preparation (to counteract condensation) give the most satisfactory results available today. Paints containing granulated cork help to minimise condensation or a steam ex-tractor may be needed. The extractor itself should be cleaned frequently for humid air encourages germs to lodge in it.

Equipment.

Sinks and draining boards should be made of porcelain, stainless steel, or good quality enamelled iron. Wooden draining boards can carry infection even after thorough cleansing.

Table tops and other working tops in the kitchen should be covered with enamel, a hard plastic or some other easily cleaned, non-porous material. Shelves should preferably be made of glass, metal, tile, or other non-porous material. Wooden shelves can be made more hygienic with an application of hard gloss paint. Stoves, saucepans and smaller equipment should all be kept clean-particularly in the corners-and in good repair.

Rubbish buckets should have well-fitting covers and should be kept outside the kitchen, together with covered dustbins. Both articles should be kept disinfected and in good repair.

Water which has been used for scrubbing floors or for rinsing soiled nappies should not be emptied into the kitchen sink but in the drain outside.

Washing Up.

Cutlery and crockery should always be thoroughly washed after use, with a good detergent and hot water. Drying-up cloths should be changed frequently although rinsing with clean hot water after washing up, and then drying them on a rack, may be preferred. Remember to rinse out milk bottles. Avoid using chipped and cracked crockery: bacteria can lurk for a long time in cracks. Dishcloths and mops should be boiled and renewed regularly. Particular care should be taken when washing bottles, crockery and cutlery used by babies and by children already ill: sick-room cups, spoons, etc., are best washed separately.

Personal Hygiene.

A high standard of personal hygiene is essential for people pre-paring food. Hands should always be washed before handling food, particularly after using the toilet and after using a handkerchief. Finger nails should be kept clean and aprons changed frequently. If a person is suffering from an infection, particularly of the nose or chest or of the bowels, she should handle food as little as possible and take extra care when it is necessary to do so. Coughing and sneezing into the hands should be avoided and a clean handkerchief (or paper ones) is essential. Other unhygienic habits to avoid are licking fingers just before direct handling of food, nose picking, and smoking while preparing and cooking food. Spoons used for tasting soups or the sweetness of stewed fruit should be rinsed immediately afterwards under the hot tap.

Cuts and sores on the hands or fingers should be covered immediately with a water-proof dressing.

Fresh v. Stale Foods

Buying Food.

Food should be bought selectively for its freshness to the eye and nose. It is particularly important to recognise freshness in meat and fish and the sensible mother will teach her daughter (and son) when they are shopping to notice the difference in appearance of fresh and stale foods.

The housewife should shop in stores where the food, premises and attendants are clean. Where unhygienic conditions and practices exist the housewife should draw the attention of the management to them. Animals should be kept under control if they must be taken into food stores. Always make sure that food is wrapped in clean paper-particularly fish, meat, cakes, etc.-or in sound containers: provide a clean shopping bag for purchases.

Cooking.

In the interests of food hygiene, food should be handled as little as possible before cooking. It should be cleaned and cooked thoroughly and for health's sake it should be eaten immediately, particularly the foods which are more likely to cause food poisoning. Pre-cooked food which is stored needs thorough recooking, not just heating up.

Meat used for filling pies should be cooked just before adding the pastry since raw meat takes much longer to cook than the pastry. Gravies, soups, and sauces should be freshly made just before they are eaten. Fried and grilled foods should be cooked on both sides to safeguard against any bacteria not being destroyed. Boiling should be bubblingly thorough, not just steeping in hot water. Roasting temperatures are generally high and the temperature charts which are usually supplied with cookers should be followed.

Duck eggs are more susceptible than hen eggs to infection and should be boiled for at least ten minutes or baked thoroughly in cooked dishes or in cakes. Frozen eggs should only be used for baking at high temperatures such as are used for sponges or pastry. If reconstituted dried eggs are cooked lightly (scrambled eggs, omelettes) they must be eaten immediately. If milk dishes are to be eaten cold they should be stored in a refrigerator. Food should never be left to ‘keep warm’ in or on a warm stove for long periods.

Foods Susceptible to Contamination.

There are certain kinds of food which are particularly liable to contamination. Extra pre-cautions can be taken to prevent them from becoming potential sources of food poisoning. One of the most important precautions is never to store such foods in a warm room or cupboard. Other precautions are dealt with under ‘Cooking’, above.

Meat.

Bacteria, particularly Salmonella and Clostridium welchii, multiply rapidly in ‘made up’ dishes such as pies, brawn, sausages, and pressed beef, so these foods should be eaten fresh.

Eggs.

Dried egg powder, frozen eggs and duck eggs are highly susceptible to Sahnonella contamination although egg powder does not become vulnerable until it is mixed with water, and frozen eggs until they are thawed.

Gravies, Soups and Sauces.

These ‘wet’ foodstuffs are particularly susceptible if made some days before being eaten. The time interval allows the Salmonella organism to multiply rapidly.

Milk and Milk Dishes.

Although the housewife in Great Britain is protected by legislation from receiving dangerous or dirty milk it is still a highly perishable commodity and milk dishes, i.e. custards, trifles, and cream (real or synthetic) are all prone to infection by Salmonella.

Uncooked Foods.

Salads, watercress, and shellfish need special care when being cleaned and prepared as they are possible sources of typhoid and paratyphoid fevers and of diseases caused by worms. Typhoid bacteria thrive in polluted waters.

Frozen Foods.

These are liable to rapid deterioration once they have begun to thaw. They should never be refrozen after being taken out of a deep freeze.

Gelatin.

Gelatin should be heated to near boiling point before use as it is prone to carry infection.

Food Storage

As far as is practicable, food should be bought immediately before it is prepared and eaten. Food that is stored should be put in suitable containers and cupboards where food pests cannot reach it. Except for a few dry substances such as white sugar and salt, food should not be stored in a warm room. Store rooms and larders, which should preferably be on a north wall, should be kept free from waste food and paper, both of which encourage pests, and also free from damp which encourages mould growth (mould is not harmful in itself but will spoil food). Bread, flour, cakes, etc. should be kept in covered tins or bins.

Food which attracts flies, e.g. puddings, sugar, jam, meat, milk, butter, should be kept in suitable containers or plates and kept in a refrigerator or cool fly-proof larder. A fly-proof cabinet can easily be made with a wooden frame covered with perforated zinc. This will allow air to circulate and cool the food while protecting it from flies. The more perishable foods such as fish, meat, and milk, should be kept in a refrigerator whenever possible. Vegetables should be stored in open racks in a well-ventilated place to prevent them becoming slimy.

Stores of foodstuffs should be checked regularly for signs of deterioration and any-thing of doubtful quality thrown out, e.g. `blown' tins, fermented bottled fruit, and dry foods infested with weevils. Tinned food should be eaten as soon as possible after opening.

‘Blown’ tins show a swelling, usually at the ends, which indicates that there is imperfect sealing and that the contents are contaminated by a micro-organism which is producing a gas. Dented tins are not necessarily contaminated though the risk of a minute break is greater than with undamaged tins. Test a dented tin by covering it with water in a bowl. If bubbles of air come up, then the contents are contaminated.

In hot weather when food deteriorates more rapidly, milk and fats can be kept cooler in earthenware vessels designed for this purpose or by placing the bottles or containers in dishes of cold water and covering them with a clean cloth which should be kept in contact with the water.

Storing in a Refrigerator.

All the more perishable foods, such as milk and milk dishes, meat, fish, and cooked left-overs, should be stored in the refrigerator. The following simple storage rules will ensure that food is kept as fresh as possible.

  1. Never overfill a refrigerator but allow room for air to circulate.
  2. Do not place really hot food into the 'fridge' as it raises the inside temperature causing condensation and consequent deterioration of all the food within. Allow hot food to cool as rapidly as possible in a suitable place before storing it.
  3. The refrigerator must be cleaned and defrosted regularly to prevent tainting and to ensure that the correct temperature is maintained.
  4. Never put food that may be `off' in the refrigerator because freezing will not make it fresh again and it may contaminate the rest of the contents. Low temperatures prevent the multiplication of bacteria but do not kill them.
  5. Metal and glass containers should be placed at the bottom of the refrigerator as condensation forms on them and may drip on to food below.

Food Pests

House-flies.

These are very common pests, especially during the warmer months. They are dangerous as they breed and feed in dirty places, e.g. dung heaps and decaying animal and vegetable matter which contain billions of bacteria. They will then enter houses and shops contaminating food in two ways: by walking over it with bacteria-laden feet and by secreting a digestive juice on the food-this juice often contains bacteria.

Control.

Flies can be kept out of store rooms by covering the window with wire gauze (30-mesh screen). Keep food covered or in fly-proof cupboards. Refuse should be kept covered and bins emptied often.

The most effective fly sprays contain pyrethrin with piperonyl butoxide, or gamma benzene hexachloride (Gammexane). The solution is sprayed in the room as a fine mist and has an immediate effect on the flies. Care must be taken, however, not to spray food (the shopkeeper will tell you which sprays are safe to use with food about).

Bluebottles.

The blowflies are normally out-door species which breed on the bodies of dead animals and insects. This powerful attraction towards the smell of flesh will often cause them to enter houses, particularly where meat or fish is lying. The bluebottle (Calliphora) is the commonest cause of fly-blown meat in larders. The female lays her eggs in clusters in crevices of the meat. The eggs hatch in 18 to 48 hours at average summer temperature and the maggots immediately proceed to bore into and consume the flesh. (The maggots are also known as ‘gentles’ and are used as fishing bait.)

If meat containing blowfly maggots is eaten, it may cause diarrhoea but there is no likelihood of the maggots surviving in the alimentary canal.

Control.

As for House-flies, above.

Cockroaches.

These insects can contaminate food. They are nocturnal in habit and live in cracks and crevices in floors and walls, particularly where there is warmth.

Control.

Gammexane should be well sprayed or sprinkled into cracks and crevices. Food should be protected with covers. Cracks should be repaired.

Ants.

Both garden ants and house ants can carry germs from place to place although they are more of a nuisance than a danger. The garden ants generally nest in the soil under stones and the house ants in warm buildings, i.e. kitchens, centrally heated dwellings, behind plaster, or under the floors or foundations.

Control.

Leave no crumbs about. The nests of garden ants can be destroyed with boiling water or gammaBHC powder. A band of tanglefoot (the sticky substance used by gardeners for fruit tree pests) round the house and below any openings will discourage their entry: it should be approximately one inch wide and must be kept tacky.

Gammexane powder sprinkled round the house may be effective against house ants but special bait or sprays should be used with the co-operation of the Local Authority. Commercial ant-killing powders should not be used near food stores nor left accessible to children or pets.

Wasps.

These are a nuisance in late summer and are attracted by sweet things and fruit. They can contaminate food.

Control.

Keep jams and other sweet things covered. The nest can be destroyed by thoroughly soaking it with Pyrethrin Spray, or by careful burning at dusk when most of the wasps have returned for the night.

Mites.

These minute insects are about one-fiftieth of an inch in length and are detected by a greyish dust around the food. They attack flour, pudding powders, pearl barley, dried fruit, jam, and cakes. They are generally found when food has been stored for long periods particularly in warm, moist, badly ventilated places.

Control.

As the amounts of susceptible foods stored in ordinary households are small the infested foods are best thrown out, although granular foods such as pearl barley can be sieved, washed and placed in a warm oven for several hours to kill any remaining mites.

Biscuit Beetles.

These beetles live on foods such as spices and biscuits. The adult beetle is about one-tenth of an inch long and is generally seen when an outbreak is well in progress. The larve and grubs can penetrate packets of foods.

Control.

Insecticides in the form of dusts, sprays and smokes should be used in the larder after removal of open food stores.

Grain Weevils.

They will attack grain foods such as rice, barley and macaroni. The weevil is about one-tenth of an inch long and the eggs are laid in the surface of the grain. Infested food may become hot and musty.

Control.

Store grain foods in temperatures below 13° C. In farmhouses, or places where large quantities of whole grain are kept, the grain can be mixed with in-secticidal dust, or fumigated.

Silver Fish.

These wingless insects are harmless from the point of view of con-taminating foods. They like the dark and are found mainly in older houses. They may damage book bindings if left undisturbed.

Rats. It is now unusual for rats to infest private houses in Great Britain although they may be a nuisance in farmhouses and in dwellings near grain warehouses.

Rats can gnaw through almost anything from concrete and water pipes to food and clothing. They spread Salmonella food poisoning and can carry other specific diseases like plague. Because they are creatures of habit their paths can easily be traced.

Control.

Buildings should be kept in good repair. Rubbish and waste food must not be left in open containers. Traps should be set at right angles to the rats' run. Poisoned animals will generally die in inaccessible places and poison bait can be dangerous to children or pets in the house.

The ‘safest’ poisons for domestic use are red squill powder (add 10 per cent by weight to the bait) and War-farin (0-025 per cent in the bait). As rats are suspicious animals, unpoisoned bait (preferably cereals) should be left for a few nights before adding the poison to allay their fears. Dead rats should be handled with gloves, and hands washed after using poisoned bait.

Mice.

Control.

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