At each step of the food chain, farmers, food-processing industries or retailers use numerous procedures to guarantee food quality and safety. Nonetheless, we need to stay alert because we need to remember that food originates from animals, plants and trees, all potential and natural sources of micro-organisms and of harmful chemical products. Consequently, it is essential that each and one of us respects the good hygiene practices, be it at home or outside.
Germs can be of multiple origins (including the food itself) and can be eliminated from the food by following some simple precautions:
- Make sure that the surfaces are clean and keep all wrappers away from food being prepared.
- Store dry food in a completely airtight container in order to prevent the appearance of mold.
- In order to avoid contamination between raw and cooked food, wash carefully the surfaces and the kitchenware between each different food.
- Take special care of surfaces and kitchenware used to prepare meat and poultry in order to prevent salmonellae from spreading.
- In what concerns fresh vegetables, they must be well washed in order to reduce all possible contamination (especially if the vegetables were watered with contaminated water).
Pick frozen and cool food at the end of shopping; keep them cool until home, where you need to store them as soon as possible in the refrigerator or the freezer. Thermometers can guarantee that the food is stored at the good temperature: 0 – 5°C for the refrigerator, -18°C for the freezer. Pay attention to the best-before dates while buying and while using foodstuff. Carefully observe storage instructions of food stored for long periods, keep leftovers for short periods of time.
In what concerns cooking, comply with instructions referring to time and temperature mentioned on the wrappers and in the recipes. Be careful to available instructions mentioning cooking techniques (for example: microwave or barbecue). Make sure that the leftovers are heated in depth, which means at a temperature of 70°C.
The refrigerator is an important link in the cold chain. In the part between +4°C and +6°C, it is recommended to keep: home cooked food, boiled vegetables and fruit, home cooked meat and fish, yogurts and ripe cheese. In the coolest part between 0°C and +4°C: meats, cooked and to be cooked delicatessen meats, poultry, fish, fresh caterer products, creams, dairy desserts, defrosting products, started fresh products, soft white cheese and dairy products made with unpasteurized milk, fresh fruit juice, wrapped salads, ready-made meals (dishes in sauce, pastries, etc.). In the crisper drawer: washed fresh vegetables and fruit, wrapped cheese. On the door: eggs, butter, milk, fruit juice started but well closed. It is nonetheless important to keep in mind that food preservation techniques like freezing or dehydration do not kill germs, but they simply keep them in a state of lethargy, from which they can come out as soon as temperature and humidity conditions become again favorable to their development.
Some useful advice:
- Wrap separately raw and cooked food.
- Remove the cardboard or plastic overwrap.
- Do not leave for too long cool products out of the refrigerator.
- Eat first products whose best-before dates are the closest.
- Wash one or twice a month your refrigerator with soapy water and rinse with water with bleach.
Food labels are one of the most important and direct means of communicating information on products, such as ingredients, quality and nutritional values. They allow consumers to make the right choices for their health providing that you know to read them.
For wrapped foods, regulatory labelling information can be found on the wrapper. In order to simplify the reading: name, weight and the best-before date are necessarily grouped on the same wrapper side. On the other hand, the other information can be dispersed all over the wrapper. In the case of unpacked food, especially for food sold in bulk like fruit or vegetables, certain indications can be found on the boards near the foodstuffs. Several elements must be found on the label.
The sales denomination specifies the regulatory name of the product. It gives important indications because it describes the food based on its main ingredients. Examples: fruit yogurt, cocoa filled and coated pastry. The mention “use by” must always precede the use-by date. No product can be commercialized if the “use-by date” is exceeded and we must not consume these foods after this date due to a risk of food poisoning. The expiry date can also bear the mention “best before”. This means that after this date the product risks losing its initial qualities (taste, texture, flavor, nutritional value). On the other hand, its consumption remains safe.
Weight or volume. Sometimes, the label includes double information: for 100 grams and by portion. However, be careful, the “portion” can be defined by the manufacturer and vary from a product to another and in certain cases can be so small that it hides the energy intake of the product.
The ingredient list is the best way to know the composition of food. It is presented in decreasing order of weight. Generally, the longer the ingredient list, the more the product was transformed– which sometimes means that a lot of additives have been added. The latter must be indicated with the name of their category followed either by their European symbol, either by their specific name. We can distinguish different categories: food colorings (E100 numbers), preservatives (E200 numbers), antioxidants (E300 numbers), thickeners, stabilizers, emulsifiers and gelling agents (E400 numbers), acidity regulators, anti-caking agents, flavor enhancers, antibiotics, galzing agents and sweeteners, additional chemicals (E500 to E1500 numbers).
Fat content is compulsory on dairy (cheese, yogurts, and creams). Low fat content: these products must not contain more than 1.5% fat content for liquids, 3% for solids. Reduced fat content: these products must present a content reduced by 25% compared to the normal fat content of the standard product. Light products: these products must contain less than 30% fat, sugar or calories than the classical version of the product. This indication does not necessarily apply to fat content.
The nutritional label indicates the energy value (calories or kilojoules) of foods, but also its nutrient and other useful substances content: proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, food fibers, vitamins, sodium and mineral salts. It is compulsory only in certain cases. All values are expressed for 100 g, 100 ml and/or by standard food portion.
Added sugar level can appear on certain fruit juices and nectars.
Alcohol content. Alcohol is very energetic. For the same weight, alcohol has twice as many calories as sugar!
Finally, the storage conditions and instructions for use recommended by the manufacturer are indicated. Certain vitamins more sensitive to heat can be destroyed by prolonged cooking or too high temperature.
On the label of some foodstuffs we can read certain health claims. Health claims are statements that affirm or suggest that the food has particular properties that favorably contribute to the health of the individual that consumes it. There is no specific regulation yet concerning health claims. However, cheating the consumer on the quality of merchandise is completely forbidden. It is especially forbidden to claim that a food prevents or cures a disease.
Most people can eat all food without any issues. However, certain individuals can react badly to the ingestion of certain foods. Consumption of these specific foods causes them uncomfortable symptoms and in certain cases, serious diseases. Food allergy corresponds to an inappropriate and exaggerated body reaction towards the proteins met in the close environment and usually harmless. In these specific cases, the proteins are called allergens. Food allergies are more and more widespread, and grouped with respiratory, contact and drug allergies, they rank on the 4th worldwide place of the most frequent diseases.
Most of food intolerances result in body reactions such as: stomach ache, constipation, diarrhea, head ache, lips, palate and throat itching and swelling, asthma and skin rash. Symptoms appear in the following minutes up to 4 hours after ingestion. Effects are not only localized. In the most severe cases, a general reaction can occur: it is what we call an anaphylactic shock that increases the risk of cardiac arrest. 90% of food allergies correspond to 8 food groups: milk, egg, peanuts, nuts, wheat, fish, shellfish and soya. Currently, 14 major allergens have been identified and their presence in food has to be necessarily reported.
Cow’s milk protein (APLV). This food allergy develops very early. It represents 13% of food allergies in young children against 5.4% in adults. It disappears up to 80% at the age of 4/5 if the involved protein elimination has been done correctly.
Egg represents one of the main allergens. It is the prevailing allergy of infants between 0 and 6 months. It is the cause of 30% of food allergies in infants and of 7 to 8% of adult allergies. Healing is long: for most of the infants, the allergy persists after 2 and a half years of elimination.
Peanuts. This type of allergy represents the second food allergy worldwide. Opposite to milk and egg allergy, it is lasting. It represents 18% of child good allergies against only 1.1% of adult food allergies.
Wheat. If we have much less allergic persons to wheat than milk and egg, this allergy is nonetheless growing fast. It is more frequent in children than in adults.
Soya. Despite soya’s rapid expansion in France, the corresponding allergy remains very low for the moment. Nonetheless, allergy specialists fear a growth of this allergy in the coming years.
To these 5 allergies, you need to add: sulfites, clams, shellfish, nuts, mustard, sesame, lupine, fish and celery.
In children, allergies to animal proteins are the most frequent ones (53% of the cases). Nonetheless, it is important to note that allergens blamed for this allergy are very different according to ages. Certain child food allergies persist through adulthood.
In young adults, between 15 and 30 years old, 31% of food allergies began in the childhood. We are talking about allergies to peanuts, followed by egg, wheat flour, fish and sesame. At 30, child food allergies have disappeared except very rare cases of fish allergies. Allergies persisting in adulthood rarely heal. Women (after 15 years old) seem to be more predisposed to food allergies than men. In the last years, noteworthy tendencies consist in the progression of food allergies to fruit and vegetables from the latex family (avocado, kiwi, banana, chestnuts) and in the progression of food allergies to sesame and lupine.
At the European level, a new regulation obliging the manufacturer to inform the consumer on the label of the presence of certain allergens should see the light of day. The substances that should be mentioned on the label are:
- Gluten contained in cereals and derivatives.
- Shellfish and derivatives.
- Egg and derivatives.
- Fish and derivatives.
- Peanuts and derivatives.
- Soya and derivatives.
- Milk and dairy products (including lactose).
- Nuts and derivatives.
- Sesame and derivatives.
- Sulfites in a concentration of at least 10 mg/kg.