Good practices for preventing foodborne infections during the lockdown
Each year, in France, around a third of reported foodborne infections occur in the home. During the current lockdown period, when all meals have to be taken at home, there may be some changes to how food is stored, prepared and consumed. It is therefore essential to pay greater attention to applying good hygiene practices in the kitchen. Here, ANSES's experts offer a reminder of the rules to be followed to ensure that the lockdown does not lead to an increase in foodborne infections and additional demands on health professionals during the COVID-19 epidemic.
Clean surfaces and equipment thoroughly
Frequent hand washing with soap and water is the cornerstone of kitchen hygiene. Frequent cleaning of kitchen surfaces, equipment and utensils removes most of the dirt and micro-organisms that may be present. Sponges, cloths and other cleaning utensils should then be washed and disinfected regularly, either by adding bleach at the recommended doses or by using very hot water (temperature above 60°C).
- remove the outer packaging from products (e.g. the cardboard around pots of yoghurt) to prevent food and the refrigerator being contaminated by any micro-organisms found on the cardboard or plastic;
- keep sensitive foods (e.g. meat, fish, ready meals) in the coldest part of the refrigerator. Refer to the manufacturer's instructions to find out where the coldest part is located, as this depends on the refrigerator's age and model;
- avoid direct and indirect contact between raw and cooked foods in the refrigerator;
- leftovers should be kept in closed containers or covered with cling-film;
- avoid overloading the refrigerator to allow air to circulate inside. Certain foods that are sometimes kept cold may also be stored at room temperature (refer to the instructions on the packaging): eggs (if they were kept at room temperature in the shop) and some unpackaged fruits and vegetables (e.g. carrots, apples, cucumber);
- monitor your refrigerator's temperature (4°C in the coldest part) and adjust the thermostat setting according to the refrigerator's capacity (refer to the manufacturer's instructions);
- comply with the use-by date (UBD) of packaged products.
Check the product for the corresponding type of date: UBD or DMD.
The words "use by..." indicate the product's use-by date (UBD). It is essential to comply with this date, as consuming the product any later than this may pose a risk to health.
The words "best before..." indicate the date of minimum durability (DMD). After this date, the food may lose some of its flavour and/or nutritional qualities, but can be consumed without any risk to health. This indication is mainly displayed on drinks and grocery products (pasta, rice, sugar, canned foods). For eggs, the best before date, which is 28 days from the date they were laid, corresponds to the DMD.
You can avoid exceeding these food use-by dates by taking them into account when planning meals.
- although home freezing at -18°C stops bacterial growth, most micro-organisms survive freezing. It is therefore preferable to freeze food in advance (immediately after purchase or preparation) and not at the end of the UBD;
- seek advice from retailers on how to store delicatessen products, ready meals, cream-based pastries or "highly perishable" non-prepackaged foods (e.g. foods sliced to order) on which there is no use-by date. A duration of less than three days is often recommended;
- whenever food is spilled in the refrigerator, the soiled surfaces should be cleaned immediately. All interior surfaces should be thoroughly cleaned as often as necessary.
Specific guidelines for eggs:
- eggs should always be stored at the same temperature to avoid the phenomenon of water condensation on their surface;
- under no circumstances should eggs be washed before storage. Washing increases the porosity of the shell and allows micro-organisms to penetrate;
- broken or cracked eggs should not be eaten;
- uncooked egg-based preparations (mayonnaise, creams, chocolate mousse, pastries, etc.) should be consumed shortly after preparation, or chilled rapidly and then kept cool and consumed within 24 hours.
Good food preparation practices
- wash your hands well with soap and water before and during meal preparation.This should be done before and after handling raw food (e.g. meat, eggs, vegetables) and after any potentially contaminating action (using the toilet, blowing your nose, touching a screen, stroking an animal, touching the rubbish bin, etc.);
- avoid preparing meals in the event of any symptoms of gastroenteritis or flu-like syndrome. If no other person is available to prepare meals, take greater care when washing your hands and opt for foods that require little preparation or cooking;
- use a different chopping board for each type of food: keep one for raw meat and fish, and another for cooked products and clean vegetables. Chopping boards should be cleaned immediately after each use (with hot water, washing-up liquid, an abrasive sponge) and air-dried quickly. Once food is cooked, do not reuse the same dishes and utensils used to prepare and transport it when raw;
- fruits and vegetables should be washed thoroughly with drinking water, which removes soil and impurities that may carry a high load of micro-organisms;
- food should be defrosted in the refrigerator, in the microwave (using the defrost function) or quickly by cooking or reheating. Defrosted food should be consumed quickly (within three days) and never refrozen;
- cooking food to an internal temperature of 70°C eliminates most pathogenic micro-organisms. It is recommended that food be reheated in a covered container until steam escapes (regardless of the means used: hotplate, microwave, oven, etc.);
- home-cooked meals should not be left at room temperature for more than two hours before consumption or refrigeration, and should be eaten within three days. If a large quantity of food has been prepared (more than a litre or a kilogramme), it should be divided into smaller portions for faster cooling;
- minced meat should be cooked thoroughly before consumption by young children, pregnant women, the elderly and immunocompromised individuals;
- the consumption of raw meat or fish (in tartar, carpaccio or sushi) and raw-milk dairy products (with the exception of hard pressed cheeses such as Emmental or Comté) is strongly discouraged for young children, pregnant women, the elderly and immunocompromised individuals.
Waste management in the kitchen
Dispose of waste and clean rubbish bins regularly, and whenever necessary.