Keeping food safe in summer

Wily, invisible to the naked eye and highly dangerous, they threaten to wreck our easygoing summer holidays: germs that thrive in high temperatures and burrow into food, growing rapidly because foodstuffs are badly stored and transported. And when foodstuffs travel long distances to reach their final destination (our plates), the chances are they won’t arrive in tip-top condition. Each year in Europe, 1.5 million people suffer from food-related infections, while in the USA sufferers number some 80 million. Dimitris Tymbis, a food microbiology professor at the National Technical University, notes: «Everyone has at one point noticed water leaking from the hull of a ship. This means that the refrigerators on the trucks it is carrying are not working properly.» The greatest problem in food preservation and transportation lies in frozen foodstuffs that need to be kept at a certain temperature. Though ships have equipment that ensures the smooth operation of refrigerated trucks, even when the engines are turned off, they are seldom used. Tymbis also emphasizes that the most important thing in preserving food is to ensure «that the chain of ice is not broken.» As soon as a product begins to thaw, bacteria find fertile ground in which to multiply at an incredible speed. If a certain food contains but one bacterium (all foods contain a certain amount of microbes and bacteria, which are, however, not harmful to health), within 10 hours, that one bacterium will have multiplied to a million. However, the inspections conducted by the Hellenic Food Authority (EFET), says the organization’s president, Christina Papanikolaou, deal with the delivery of foodstuffs and goods that are already on the shelves of stores. When food travels, the responsibility for inspecting it lies with the prefectural authorities. The employees responsible for receiving the goods in stores need to be trained to recognize foodstuffs that have gone off. Furthermore, foodstuffs are often not stored properly in the stores themselves. According to research conducted by the Greek Quality of Life Consumer Union (EKPOIZO) in 50 supermarkets in Athens, Piraeus and Thessaloniki, one in four freezers were operating at unacceptable temperatures, above -12 degrees Celsius (10F) that is. According to Directive 89/108, all frozen foods must be stored at temperatures below -18C (0F). EKPOIZO also found just 15 percent of foodstuffs from closed freezers and 3 percent from open freezers was stored at a temperature at or below -18C. Moreover, most foodstuffs with a longer shelf life can also spoil because of bad handling and storage, becoming potential health hazards. Biscuits, bottled water, coffee and other products are often left in the sun for hours in warehouses. As Tymbis notes, «Bottled water should be stored in a closed, ventilated area at a temperature of 18 degrees Celsius, or at least sheltered from the sun.»

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