With the festivities going on, there is usually a lot of eating and drinking. As is common in this season, meat is in bountiful abundance, mostly in the form of ram but also including goat, poultry and beef. While these are tasty and provide our protein needs, they can also be a source of infection and sometimes fatal illness if not properly handled.
The chief constituents of meat (beef, pork and poultry) are water, protein and fat, phosphorus, iron and vitamins and though it is a huge source of protein, nutrition experts have pointed out their potential to serve as incubators for disease-causing micro-organisms.
In a study on The Bacteriological Quality of Fresh Meats Sold in Some Nigerian Markets, published in the Electronic Journal of Environmental, Agricultural And Food Chemistry, it was noted that organisms such as K. pneumoniae, Enterobacter spp, C. freundii, Ps. aeruginosa, E. coli, Salmonella spp, S. marcescens, Pseudomonas spp and Pr. vulgaris are some of the micro-organisms found in meat in some of our markets.
Meat has been said to be the most perishable of all important foods and it contains sufficient nutrient needed to support the growth of micro-organisms. Its low acidity and high moisture content also provide a conducive environment for micro-organisms to breed. The presence of these organisms i22n fresh meats is also as a result of the deplorable state of poor hygienic and sanitary practices employed in the slaughtering, processing and packaging of fresh meats.
These micro-organisms, according to Mrs Serah Abagai, of the Dietetics Department, National Hospital, Abuja, can have grave effects. “The effect of bacteria in the body is food poison. It could cause diarrhoea, vomiting or stomach cramps. It could be serious food poisoning, especially if it has to do with meat. Some food poisoning could lead to death. For instance, food poisoning from Clostridium perfringens could lead to death,” she says.
Medical experts have also stated that in the developing world, food-borne infection leads to the death of many children and the resulting diarrheal disease can have long-term effects on children’s growth as well as on their physical and cognitive development.
Meat, like any food which supports or allows the growth of pathogenic microorganisms, needs to be handled with special care in order to be kept safe for consumption.
In a study of the prevalence of Staphylococcus aureus in food samples in some areas of south eastern Nigeria carried out by the Department of Applied Biology, Ebonyi State University, Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, it was discovered that to a large extent, raw meat is usually contaminated with S. aureus as a result of unhygienic handling.
The research also cited symptoms of poisoning as rapid in many cases but dependent on the individual’s susceptibility to the toxin, the amount of contaminated food eaten, the amount of toxin in food ingested and the general health of the victim.
These symptoms, according to the study, range from nausea, vomiting, fever, abdominal cramping, weakness, diarrhoea to transient change in blood pressure.
Because of the gastrointestinal symptoms of vomiting and diarrhoea, there is usually a significant loss of body fluids. In severe cases, people with food poisoning may need to be hospitalised to receive intravenous fluids and other medical treatments. Most times, symptoms surface between 30 minutes to four weeks after eating contaminated meat, but medical experts say they usually show up within 12 to 72 hours.
According to the Food Standards Agency of the United Kingdom, a useful way of preventing food poisoning is to remember the four Cs:
You can prevent the spread of harmful bacteria and viruses by having good personal hygiene and keeping all your work surfaces and utensils clean.
Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water, particularly:
after going to the toilet
after handling raw food
before preparing food
after touching bins
after touching pets
Remember never to:
handle food when you are ill with stomach problems, such as diarrhoea or vomiting
touch food if you have sores and cuts (unless they are covered with a waterproof dressing)
It is always important to cook food thoroughly, particularly poultry, pork and beef, as this will kill any harmful bacteria that may be present, such as listeria and salmonella.
Make sure the food is cooked thoroughly and is steaming hot in the middle. You can check that the meat is cooked by inserting a knife into the thickest or deepest part of the meat: if the juices that come out are clear and there is no pink/red meat left, it is fully cooked. If you are reheating food, make sure it is steaming hot all the way through. Do not reheat food more than once.
It is important to keep certain foods at the correct temperature to prevent harmful bacteria from growing and multiplying. Always check the label on the packaging.
If food has to be refrigerated, set your fridge to between zero and 5°C (32 and 41°F).
If food that needs to be chilled is left standing at room temperature, bacteria can grow and multiply to dangerous levels.
Cooked leftovers should be cooled quickly, ideally within one to two hours, and then put in your fridge or freezer. Putting food in shallow containers and dividing it into smaller amounts will speed up the cooling process.
Cross-contamination occurs when bacteria are transferred from foods (usually raw foods) to other foods. Contamination can be:
direct, where one food touches or drips onto another food
indirect, where bacteria on your hands, equipment, work surfaces or utensils are spread to food
To prevent cross-contamination:
Always wash your hands after handling raw food.
Keep raw and ready-to-eat foods separate.
Store raw meat in sealable containers at the bottom of your fridge, so that it cannot drip onto other foods.
Use a different chopping board for raw food and ready-to-eat food, or wash it thoroughly in between preparing different foods.
Clean knives and other utensils thoroughly after they have been used with raw food.
Don’t wash raw meat or poultry: any harmful bacteria will be killed by thorough cooking and washing could splash harmful bacteria around the kitchen.