It is important that the food we eat and the water we drink is clean and safe. So it is essential to prepare meals in a safe, hygienic way. If germs (such as harmful micro-organisms and parasites) get into our foods and drinks, they may give us food poisoning (resulting, for example, in diarrhoea or vomiting). The people most likely to become sick are young children and people who are already ill, particularly people living with HIV/AIDS.
We can prevent most food poisoning by following a few basic and simple rules of hygiene that aim to:
prevent germs from reaching foods and drinks. Many germs come from human or animal faeces. Germs can reach:
- food via dirty hands, flies and other insects, mice and other animals and dirty utensils;
- water supplies if they are not protected from faeces.
prevent germs from multiplying in foods and reaching dangerous levels. Germs breed fastest in food that is warm and wet (e.g. porridge), especially if it contains sugar or animal protein, such as milk.
To help families have clean, safe foods and drinks:
find out about disposal of faeces, hand washing practices, the source and storage of water and ways in which food is prepared. This helps you identify ways in which germs may be reaching food and water, and foods in which germs may be breeding;
suggest practical ways to improve water and food hygiene. Some of the suggestions listed below may be relevant and useful. But remember not to overburden families with too much advice.
Wash hands after contact with faeces
Advise people to:
wash hands with clean water and soap (or ashes):
- after going to the toilet, cleaning a babys bottom or cleaning clothes, dirty bed linen or surfaces contaminated with faeces. It is most important to wash hands after contact with faeces;
- before and after preparing food and eating;
- before feeding a child or sick person (make sure they wash their hands too).
dry hands by:
- shaking and rubbing them together or;
- using a clean cloth that is kept only for this purpose.
keep fingernails short and clean;
avoid coughing or spitting near food or water;
cover any wounds on hands to prevent contamination of food during its preparation;
use a latrine and keep it clean and free of flies;
teach small children to use a potty. Put childrens faeces in the latrine;
clean up faeces from animals.
Figure 7. Washing hands helps prevent disease
Dispose of faeces safely
Use water that comes from a safe source or is boiled before drinking
Advise families to:
use safe water, such as treated pipe water, or water from a protected source, such as a borehole or protected well. If the water is not safe, it should be boiled (rapidly for one minute) before it is drunk or used in uncooked foods (e.g. fruit juices);
use clean covered containers to collect and store water.
Cover foods to keep them clean and safe
Advise families to:
buy fresh foods, such as meat or fish, on the day they will eat them. Look for the signs of poor-quality food (see Topic 2, page 29);
cover raw and cooked foods to protect them from insects, rodents and dust;
store fresh food (especially foods from animals) and cooked foods in a cool place, or a refrigerator if available;
keep dry foods such as flours and legumes in a dry, cool place protected from insects, rodents and other pests;
avoid storing leftover foods for more than a few hours (unless in a refrigerator). Always store them covered and reheat them thoroughly until hot and steaming (bring liquid food to a rolling boil).
Prevent raw meat, offal, poultry and fish from touching other foods
Advise people preparing food to:
keep food preparation surfaces clean. Use clean, carefully washed dishes and utensils to store, prepare, serve and eat food;
prepare food on a table where there is less dust;
wash vegetables and fruits with clean water. Peel if possible;
prevent raw meat, offal, poultry and fish from touching other foods, as these animal foods often contain germs. Wash surfaces touched by these raw foods with hot water and soap;
cook meat, offal, poultry and fish well. Meat should have no red juices;
boil eggs so they are hard. Do not eat raw or cracked eggs;
boil milk unless it is from a safe source. Soured milk may be safer than fresh milk.
Advise families to:
keep the surroundings of the home free from animal faeces and other rubbish;
keep rubbish in a covered bin and empty it regularly so it does not attract flies;
make compost for the garden with suitable waste food, garden rubbish and animal faeces. Composting destroys germs in faeces.
Food and water is unsafe if it contains toxins or dangerous chemicals. A toxin called aflatoxin is made by a mould that grows on cereals and legumes. Eating aflatoxin can make us seriously ill. Advise families to prevent moulds from growing by drying crops thoroughly and storing them in a dry place. Warn people not to eat mouldy foods or give them to animals. They can add them to compost.
Pesticides and other harmful agricultural chemicals may get into food or water and cause poisoning if:
the chemical is not used in the recommended way;
the empty containers are used for food or water.
Advise people to:
follow carefully the instructions for using chemicals;
be strict about keeping chemicals away from children;
never put food or water into containers that have been used for chemicals;
wash hands after using chemicals, and wash any foods (e.g. fruit) that have been sprayed with them.
SHARING THIS INFORMATION
Before sharing this information with families, you may need to:
1. Find out. What the sources and quality of household water supplies are. What the local hygiene practices are, particularly those related to washing hands and getting rid of adults and childrens faeces. How food is stored and prepared. What the principal unhygienic food and personal practices in the area are. What people know about keeping food and water safe and clean. How agricultural chemicals are used and how they are handled.
2. Prioritize. Decide which information is most important to share with groups or individual families.
3. Decide whom to reach. For example: women and others who prepare food or fetch water.
4. Choose communication methods. For example: health talks, discussions and demonstrations (e.g. washing hands), with community groups and at clinics and homes.
Examples of questions to start a discussion
(choose only one or two questions that deal with the information families need most)
Why is it important to prepare food in a hygienic way?
When should we wash our hands? How should we wash and dry our hands?
Why is it important to get rid of faeces from adults and children safely? How can we do this?
Is the local water supply safe to drink? If not, what should we do?
Is the local milk safe to drink? If not, what should we do?
Why should we prevent raw meat, poultry and fish from touching other foods?
How can we do this?
How should we store different types of food (e.g. vegetables, meat, cooked foods)?
How should we deal with waste from food?
What should we do with mouldy food?