Loadshedding for extended periods is causing temperature fluctuations in our fridges, forcing us to think about food safety and spoilage, our general behaviour in terms of food purchases, storage, managing our fridges, hygiene and the use of leftover food.
In this article, we’ll cover some tips and key considerations to help ensure you can avoid foodborne illness during loadshedding.
Managing Perishable Food
Whether or not you’re experiencing long periods of loadshedding, there are always some essential questions to consider regarding the food that goes into our fridges:
- What’s in our fridges?
- Do we really need to keep so much perishable food in our fridges?
- How safe is it, given the current loadshedding schedules?
The key to better managing the food in your fridge during loadshedding is to keep as little of it as possible. Overloading your fridge with perishable foods is risky, as it increases the potential for food-borne illness.
If you are concerned about wasting food, what you can do instead is to consider adopting a minimalist lifestyle that is well-suited to working through tough economic times and any effects of loadshedding.
Keeping Your Fridge and Kitchen Clean
Cleanliness in our kitchen and fridge goes a long way in reducing the potential of organisms that can proliferate in these environments and cause illnesses, such as food poisoning.
Here are a few basic ways to maintain hygiene:
- Regularly clean your fridge, and keep a special eye on obvious potential contamination points such as areas where raw meat has dripped onto the bottom shelf.
- Defrost your freezer to remove any ice building up that can affect the performance of the freezer.
New fridges often maintain the temperature more effectively for longer periods of time due to new, well-fitting seals. If you’ve got an older fridge and the rubber seals are broken, or the door doesn’t close properly, temperature fluctuations are more likely to occur.
Keeping the Temperature Consistent
The key is to keep your fridge or freezer temperature consistent and manageable. You can do this by keeping your fridge closed during loadshedding, and packing more higher risk items towards the back, where temperature fluctuations will occur less often.
The door of the fridge is a higher-risk area because of higher temperature fluctuations. This is important since we often keep items like milk in this compartment, which increases the risk of it going off before the use-by date.
Fridge Temperatures and Microorganisms
We don’t get sick from just one organism. We get sick only when a particular number of tiny organisms are present. Certain microorganisms can multiply rapidly every 20 minutes and others even every 10 minutes.
Environmental conditions, such as fluctuating temperatures, will influence how many organisms are present at a certain point in time and can multiply. If the food is kept at fluctuating temperatures, it will encourage rapid growth of microorganisms to increase to levels high enough to cause illness when consumed.
In general, microorganisms can multiply at temperatures from 4°C to 60°C. This temperature range is often called the “danger zone” in food safety. Some of these organisms prefer room temperature and can rapidly multiply. This makes leaving food outside the fridge risky behaviour since you don’t know if food is contaminated with any pathogens or bacterial growth or if general spoilage can occur. The strategy is, therefore, to prevent contamination or “slow down” the growth of bacteria through effective cold chain management.
Waste pickers relied on intuition and basic skills to identify when food was safe to eat. Sensory parameters are important for safety when keeping leftover food.
If you cook food, try and consume it as soon as possible – preferably the next day. If you heat something, do so properly. A key rule is to avoid reheating food more than once, especially as microorganisms can survive high and low temperatures, and can rapidly multiply during cooling periods. The more you keep your food and expose it to fluctuating temperatures, the less safe it becomes.
Consider making and preparing enough food for a meal to avoid leftovers in the fridge. It’s also good to think about eating smaller portions and asking ourselves: do our bodies really need that amount of food?
When it comes to loadshedding, the key to better food safety is minimalism. Maintaining hygiene in your fridge and kitchen, keeping the temperature consistent, and being mindful of leftovers can ensure healthier eating during power cuts. Taking these steps can help you reduce the risk of foodborne illness and waste, and ensures that we remain healthy during these testing times.