As part of its celebration of June as the National Safety Month, WWF-Philippines, the local arm of the World Wide Fund, held the Panda Talk Food Safety: Everyone’s Business, a timely topic as the country transitions to The New Normal.
Panda Talks are WWF-Philippines’ free livestreaming educational events which aim to equip the public with information on conservation in line with the organization’s initiatives.
With many Filipinos going into buying foodstuffs online and home-based food selling, there is a need to establish food safety and food waste management practices.
Host Janine Gutierrez, WWF-Philippines’ National Youth Ambassador, and speaker Melody Melo-Rijk, WWF-Philippines’ Project Manager for the Sustainable Diner Project, discussed ways in which consumers and home-based food businesses can practice food safety in a COVID-19 world.
“Food safety is actually a shared responsibility between the food businesses and the dining public,” shares Melo-Rijk. “We all have a stake in making sure that our food is safe, nutritious and healthy to eat.”
Since COVID-19 is transmitted from human-to-human, physical distancing has become the norm. Although there is no evidence that food of animal origin can transmit the disease, preventing food contamination will reduce foodborne illness and the likelihood that novel diseases such as COVID-19 will emerge.
With these in mind, Melo-Rijk shared best practices to ensure food safety for both consumers and food businesses.
Food Safety at Home. The home has emerged as the safest place to be as it is an environment that can be easily controlled by the consumer. Steps to further safeguard household members from disease include:
- Practice personal hygiene at all times. Washing hands from nails to elbows for twenty seconds will help to remove physical dirt and reduce microbes. Daily and thorough bathing of each household member will also prevent contamination and disease transfer. It is also important to be mindful of your water usage so turn off your faucet while still soaping your hands.
- Clean and sanitize. Cleaning is the removal of visible physical dirt from surfaces while sanitizing involves the use of anti-bacterial agents to eliminate invisible micro-organisms. It is important to sanitize (between 60% to 85% FDA-approved sanitizing solutions are best) after cleaning to help reduce all possible contaminants.
- Separate raw and cooked food. Raw food contains more micro-organisms than cooked food so these should be kept apart to avoid cross-contamination. This also involves the utensils use to handle food during preparation: ideally, a separate set of knives and chopping boards should be assigned for raw and cooked food; if this is too costly, food preparers can just make sure to clean and sanitize each tool prior to shifting from raw food to cooked food and vice versa.
- Cook and store food properly. The key to cooking and storing food is temperature. Microorganisms grow best between the 5 deg and 60 deg Celsius (or 40 deg to 130 deg Fahrenheit). Food should be stored below 5 deg Celsius to slow the growth of microorganism and cooked above 60 deg Celsius to eliminate them.
- Consume fresh food and clean water from safe sources. Avoid overstocking food to assure their freshness upon consumption. Be sure to check expiry dates of packaged food and the state of fresh produce regularly.
Food Safety in Businesses. The Department of Tourism (DOT) has already released guidelines for restaurants and food businesses to follow to ensure the safety of the dining public in accordance with the measures set by the US Food and Drug Administration (US-FDA). These include:
- Employees must be clean and healthy. Food business employees must be free from COVID-19 and other diseases. Therefore, they must always practice stringent personal hygiene, wear appropriate personal protection equipment (PPEs) such as gloves, hairnets, face masks and shields, work clothes and protective covers for shoes. They should undergo regular temperature checks and immediately report any symptoms to their employers. Diners must also be required to wear face masks, undergo temperature checks, step onto sanitizing mats and provide contact details for contract tracing.
- Clean and sanitize. All surfaces in the dining and food preparation area (including utensils and equipment) must always be cleaned and sanitized. Ingredients should, of course, be meticulously cleaned.
- Maintain physical distancing at all times. The standard of 2 meters (6 feet) must be practiced by employees and diners alike, supported by floor markers or signs. Self-service setups (wherein diners will proceed to different areas) and displays of food items (which will encourage diners to gather in certain areas) must be avoided.
- Ensure protocols for delivery and pickup. Measures to ensure minimal physical contact should be implemented. For example, the use of cash or credit cards that involves physical objects changing hands should be avoided, and instead be replaced by cashless payment options like G-Cash and Paymaya which allow consumers to pay for their orders remotely using their mobile phones. Food delivery apps like GrabFood and FoodPanda have also released guidelines for contactless delivery which include designating a surface outside the home for the rider to drop off the order and pick up payment.
With these measures in place, the spread of diseases can hopefully be controlled and curtailed.
Minimizing Food Waste
Even in The New Normal, sustainability should still be a priority concern with food waste comprising 80% of the country’s solid waste. The Sustainable Diner Project is WWF-Philippines’ initiative that aims to lessen food wastage and contribute to the improvement of the implementation of sustainable consumption and production processes in the food service sector. From studies and talks done by the organization with stakeholders in the food industry, the project has provided steps that consumers and food business can follow to minimize food waste. These include:
- Plan ahead. Check your refrigerator, pantry and other food storage areas and plan your menu before going out to buy food.
- Check labels and expiry dates.
- Ensure proper storage and preparation of food. Ensure that food storage equipment such as refrigerators and chillers are functioning properly. The designated food storage area should be a cool and dry place, free from rodents and pests. Make sure that the food you store is properly sealed to avoid attracting rodents.
- Only buy products you can reasonably consume. Avoid overbuying food, especially perishables. WWF-Philippines also encourages consumers to buy “ugly” fruits and vegetables which are impertfect-looking produce due to discolorations or shape but are perfectly fine when peeled.
- Be creative with your next meal. Being stuck at home has unleashed the hidden talent in cooking that many of us have. Try to maximize the existing ingredients in your pantry and even leftovers when preparing your next meal.
The Panda Talk Food Safety: Everyone’s Business may be viewed on Facebook.
WWF is one of the world’s largest and most respected independent conservation organizations, with over 5 million supporters and a global network active in over 100 countries. WWF’s mission is to stop the degradation of the Earth’s natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world’s biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption.
WWF-Philippines has been successfully implementing various conservation projects to help protect some of the most biologically-significant ecosystems in Asia since its establishment as the 26th national organization of the WWF network in 1997.
Check out my other posts on conservation:
- New SKYcable channel ZooMoo hosts panel on animal conservation
- WWF-Philippines celebrates World Food Day 2019
- What to teach kids about traveling
- Raise your kids to be sustainable diners
- WWF-Philippines kicks off Savour Planet 2019 with a new theme