1. Do not reheat takeaway food
The obvious option for cash-strapped students! It saves them having to buy another meal, and avoids any sort of washing up. If they don’t get up until after lunch-time, chicken tikka masala or pepperoni pizza is an entirely appropriate meal to start the day. Tempting as it may be, don’t do it!
This food has spent the last 12 hours on the arm of the sofa/bottom of the bed/lounge floor, at the nice warm temperature pathogens love. So, by the time you come to eat it for the second time there could be millions of them. Yes, you can try to blast them with your shiny new microwave, but you will not necessarily reach them all, and will have no chance of getting rid of heat-stable toxins.
2. Treat raw chicken as if it is nuclear waste
This should apply to all meat, but I have picked on chicken because it is a fairly cheap meat which comes in conveniently small portions, making it a popular choice with students. While stereotyping is quite rightly frowned upon in almost all walks of life, it is perfectly acceptable when it comes to food hygiene. Raw chicken is the bad guy, and you are perfectly within your rights to assume every piece of raw chicken is contaminated with bugs which can make you very ill. Don’t handle it much. Don’t put it on lots of surfaces. Do keep it wrapped up in its plastic tray and then empty it straight into the pan you are cooking it in. Then chuck the wrapping straight in the bin and wash your hands.
3. Protect your cooked food
If raw chicken is the bad guy, cooked food is the vulnerable victim. It needs protection. Anything which goes straight into your mouth without going in the hob/oven/microwave falls into this category. Cover it up, put it in a sealed bowl. Buy cling film – lots of it. If it is not covered up, you do not know what your flatmates may accidentally drop on it or drag across it.
4. Wash it before you use it
In an ideal kitchen, all utensils, cutlery, chopping boards and plates would be meticulously washed straight after use and put away. This is not what is going to happen in most student kitchens. Instead, you will find a chopping board skulking under three saucepans and a wok next to the sink. You do not know what it has been used for, so make assumptions and always think the worst. It may have been used to chop raw meat so don’t just grab it and use it. Wash it first.
5. Keep it cold
Fridges in student accommodation are mainly used for drinks, chocolate and tomato ketchup. They may not be big enough for everyone to get all their food in. You need to adopt a nightclub-like priority system. Things like cooked ham and pasties are on the VIP list and get guaranteed entry. The pickled onions may make it in if numbers are low, but they shouldn’t get their hopes up.
I have made light of this advice, but food hygiene is no joke. I worked as an Environmental Health Officer for many years, and have investigated countless outbreaks of food poisoning where people have had their lives ruined by food-borne disease. It is preventable, so please do share these five food hygiene tips for freshers with your young adults.
Dr Sharon Parry is a Mum of three and a former public health research fellow. She now works as a freelance writer and shares useful tips and her thoughts and experiences of having kids in primary school, high school and university in Wales on her website www.aftertheplayground.com.