What is Acrylamide?

We’ve all done it. We’ve popped the bread in the toaster and gone away and forgotten about it. The next thing we know, the smoke alarm’s going off and our toast resembles a lump of charcoal. Some of us will consign it to the dustbin, but others adhere to the old adage, waste not want not, and continue to consume it, attempting to overcome the burnt flavour with lashings of their favoured topping.

For years, there have been rumours circulating that burnt toast is carcinogenic but, realistically, is there any evidence for this?

Studies have shown that a chemical called acrylamide is formed naturally when starchy foods are cooked at high temperatures (anything above 120˚C). Food items that this applies to are potatoes in various forms, e.g. roast, chips, crisps etc., bread and some cereal products. The sugars in the foods react with naturally occurring amino acids when exposed to high temperatures to form acrylamide.

Scientists tested the impact of acrylamide on rodents and it was found that exposure to the chemical increased the risk of developing several types of cancer quite significantly. As a consequence of these results, food scientists are concerned that this evidence indicates there is a potential cancer risk to humans. There are a few caveats to this, however. It should be noted that the rodents were subjected to exceptionally large doses of the chemical, doses which would be far greater than any amount contained in your Sunday roast potatoes or a bag of crisps, for example. Studies in humans are still incomplete and are, at present, inconclusive. It is impossible to say that a chemical will affect animals and humans in exactly the same way so the results must be considered rationally and cautiously, but it is sensible to pay attention to the scientific findings and take some precautions.

This year, the Food Standards Agency has launched a campaign called, ‘Go for gold’. Contrary to how it might sound, they are not encouraging people to enter the Olympics, but have issued guidelines on how to attain the optimum shade of gold when cooking your starchy foods. With any form of cooking, whether it be frying, roasting or toasting, the goal should be to achieve a light golden colour. Cooking starchy food for too long and at too high a temperature will increase the amount of acrylamide. They also advise against keeping potatoes in the fridge as this can cause the sugars to multiply, thus raising the amount of acrylamide in the end product once cooked. Always check the guidelines on the packet when cooking things like oven chips. The food industry is attempting to do what it can to reduce the acrylamide concentrations in food so it would be prudent to follow their cooking guidelines.

It is easy to be alarmed by these reports about such staple fixtures of our diets, but it is important to remember that the studies on humans are inconclusive and that the risk is not yet substantiated. The Food Standards Agency recommends that a balanced and moderate diet including your standard 5 a day will help reduce the risk of cancer. Let moderation be our watchword and maybe that piece of toast really should just go in the bin.

 

Here is a video from the Food Standards Agency with some basic information on Acrylamide and their ‘Go for Gold’ Campaign.

Should Celebrity Cook Books Contain Food Safety Advice?

If you take a quick scan of your bookshelf, the chances are you’ll have at least one celebrity cookbook amongst your collection.  Some great recipes no doubt but what is missing?  A recent study carried out by the North Carolina State University, published in the British Food Journal, finds that cookbooks are lacking adequate advice on food safety awareness.

The study took a selection of recipes containing raw meat from 29 cookbooks and examined them for advice on cross contamination and accurate cooking temperatures.  Of those recipes chosen, only 8% provided a safe cooking temperature and, unnervingly, just over 25% of temperatures given were inaccurate.  As a general rule with the majority of recipes studied, the guidance given on establishing whether something was cooked properly or not was fairly unclear.  Katrina Levine, one of the co-authors of the research, stated that, ‘the most common indicator was cooking time’.  She went on to explain that this can vary enormously depending on type and efficiency of cooker, whether the meat is chilled or not before placing in the oven and other ambient factors, so it is not always an appropriate method for gauging whether food is sufficiently cooked or not.

Your favourite celebrity chef might have some novel culinary ideas for a different twist on a popular recipe or food combinations which they want to share with you but, hand in hand with that should go the responsibility to educate on basic food safety principles, including thoroughly researched, safe cooking times and advice on how to avoid cross contamination by adopting a few simple hygiene practices.  It is improbable that the majority of the general public will have received food hygiene training unless working in an industry that requires it.  Therefore, awareness of risk of cross contamination and ensuring correct temperatures for eliminating pathogens to prevent food borne illness is likely to be fairly low.

The study concluded that the lack of, and in some cases incorrect, direction concerning food safety practices in cookbooks could increase the risk of foodborne illnesses.  Currently, it is unclear how consumers translate the information provided in cookbooks and it was conceded that further research is necessary to study the consequences of user habits and actions when following a recipe.  However, regardless of how consumers mimic their gastronomic guru, the study does appear to establish the need for cookbooks to include basic food safety advice and principles that will promote safe food practices in the home.

 

thawing the christmas turkey

Seven Safety Tips for Defrosting Your Turkey this Christmas

How To Safely Defrost A Turkey

The build-up to the festive period has begun once more, and with it comes the prospect of lots of good food, family fun, and social gatherings with friends.

Christmas is definitely one of the most wonderful times of the year – so don’t ruin it by giving your guests or yourself food poisoning! Cases of food poisoning tend to significantly rise over the festive period. During this period it is more likely you will be cooking for several generations of people, many of whom would fall into the ‘risk group’ of people who are more susceptible to food poisoning and more likely to die as a result. We must be particularly careful when preparing food for young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and all those people who are immunocompromised.

For the majority of us, turkey will feature heavily on our Christmas menu; but improper or inadequate defrosting of frozen poultry provides a way for pathogenic bacteria to spread, leaving you with a turkey dinner that may look and taste delightful, but containing an invisible risk that can’t be detected by your senses.

There is nothing wrong in using frozen turkey, however, if you are, then it’s essential that you follow these 7 safety guidelines:

  1. Always purchase your turkey from a reputable retailer or supplier.
  1. Always follow the specific defrosting instructions on the label.
  1. Never wash your turkey, either when still frozen or when defrosted, as this can spread harmful bacteria around your kitchen by splashing!
  1. Always plan ahead! When defrosting raw turkey it is always best to thaw in the refrigerator at least 24 hours before it is to be cooked. It’s worth noting that large turkeys (around 25lbs) can take up to 48 hours to defrost. During thawing, ensure that the turkey is covered and placed in a deep container in the bottom of the refrigerator completely separated from other food, particularly ready to eat food. This will prevent blood or juices dripping down onto other food stored in the same fridge. If you don’t have the fridge space to defrost, then find some other very cool but hygienic place. Remember: Cold temperatures slow down the multiplication of pathogens on food.
  1. Always make sure that your turkey is defrosted thoroughly prior to cooking. If not, it will probably lead to uneven cooking which in turn will cause harmful bacteria to survive the cooking process.
  1. Once defrosted, keep the turkey stored in the bottom of your fridge until it is ready to cook. Leaving in the kitchen at room temperature may significantly increase the risk of food poisoning!
  1. You must always wash your hands thoroughly both before and immediately after handling the turkey, ensuring that all surfaces that have come into contact with the raw meat are thoroughly cleaned using a propriety sanitizer.

 

In recent years, goose has made a comeback on the Christmas menu. If you are using goose instead of turkey this Christmas, the above rules would still apply.

 

Merry Christmas!

how to barbeque safely

Seven Steps to a Successful Barbecue

How To Have A Successful Barbecue5535263327_90c48b90c6_o

Summer is upon us once again, and with it comes the prospect of family fun and social gatherings around the barbecue; there’s something very special about long lazy summer days and the smoky flavour of barbecued meat eaten in the company of friends.

Whilst barbeque parties are great social occasions, don’t ruin them by giving your guests food poisoning! In the UK, cases of food poisoning rise significantly over the summer months; many of which can be directly attributed to poor food safety practices on the BBQ.

Far too many happy gatherings are spoilt by the unpleasant consequences of food that has been stored at the wrong temperature, handled by people with unwashed hands, and not cooked sufficiently long enough, at a high enough temperate, to eliminate potentially hazardous bacteria. Often the person responsible for cooking at a BBQ has never received any training in food safety; therefore the potential for a serious food poisoning incident to occur is very high.

We recommend you strictly observe the following 7 points if you want to keep your guests safe and happy and yourself stress-free, when you host your next BBQ.

  1. Plan ahead – make sure the BBQ, which has probably not been used for several months, is given a through clean and safety check. Light the BBQ well in advance of the time you will begin cooking. Charcoal should be glowing hot – it can take about an hour from the time of lighting the fire to reach ideal cooking temperature.
  2.  Don’t wash raw meat – all this does is splash bacteria around the sink, taps and work surfaces that need to be kept completely free from contamination.
  3.  Store raw meat covered, in appropriate containers at the bottom of the fridge until needed for cooking.
  4.  Pre-cook the meat in your kitchen oven before finishing off on the BBQ.
  5.  Food waiting to be cooked should be stored in a cool box with a lid to prevent contamination by insects or pets.
  6.  Keep cooked and raw foods separate, and always use separate tongs and utensils to prevent cross contamination.
  7.  Wash hands thoroughly between tasks, but especially after handling raw meat. Keep your food preparation area scrupulously clean and free from discarded food at all times. Keep children well away from the BBQ, as well as those adults not involved with the cooking.

Happy barbecuing!

Learn how to safely prepare, cook, and serve food this summer with a CaterSafe online course: http://catersafeconsultants.co.uk/food-safety-haccp-training/hygiene-online