It is cosy to enjoy hotpot and have a warm chat with family members in autumn and winter. As there are a wide range of hotpot ingredients and most of them are raw foods, we may get sick from eating foods that are contaminated by dangerous micro-organisms if they are handled improperly or undercooked. In order to ensure food safety, the public are advised to take heed of the Five Keys to Food Safety while enjoying hotpot.
First, choose. Patronise reliable and hygienic shops for hotpot ingredients and select more fresh foods. For prepackaged foods, check whether the packaging is intact and pay attention to the expiry date on the food labels.
Second, clean. Observe good personal and food hygiene when preparing foods. If we want to handle cooked foods after handling raw foods, we must wash hands thoroughly to avoid cross-contamination. All food ingredients must be thoroughly washed. Wash vegetables thoroughly under clean running water. When appropriate, scrub produces with hard surfaces with a clean produce brush to remove dirt and substances including pesticides and contaminants from the surface and the fissures. Use of soaps, special detergents or produce washes is not recommended. Soaking in water and blanching are effective in terms of removing dirt and reducing pesticide residues, but they are no longer considered necessary in the face of nutrient loss in the processes. Poultry meat, pork and beef should be washed and sliced into thin strips for easy cooking. For shellfish like scallops and geoducks, scrub the shells thoroughly and remove their internal organs.
When enjoying hotpot, we should always keep our hands and utensils clean. Before eating and handling food ingredients, wash hands for 20 seconds with running water and soap and dry them off. If there is a wound on the hand, cover it properly with a waterproof bandage or wear a glove before handling food.
Third, separate. When shopping for hotpot ingredients, buy prepackaged foods first and raw meat, poultry and seafood last. Raw meat should be put separately from other foods in shopping trolley or bag to prevent its juices from contaminating other foods. During eating, we must handle raw and cooked foods carefully and separate them completely. Avoid contact between raw and cooked foods on table to prevent cross-contamination. When eating, use separate sets of chopsticks and utensils with different appearances to handle raw and cooked foods.
Fourth, cook thoroughly and this is a very important key for enjoying hotpot safely. In the whole process, take thoroughly cooked food out of the pot only when the soup is boiling completely. Whenever water or soup is added to the pot, wait until it is boiling hot before adding food for cooking. Do not eat shrimps that are cooked lightly. Rather, shrimps should be fully cooked until the shells turn red and the flesh turn white and unclear. As for shucked oysters, they should be cooked in the boiling water for at least three minutes before consumption. Many people like to use raw eggs as hotpot ingredients and they should take extra care on this. Eggs with cracked shells should be discarded immediately as they are prone to be contaminated by dangerous microorganisms. Before consumption, eggs must be washed thoroughly to remove the dirt on the shell. Wash hands thoroughly after handling or touching eggs. Do not consume cooked foods that are mixed with raw eggs as dangerous microorganisms may be present in raw eggs.
Lastly, safe temperature. At home, most hotpot ingredients should be stored in a fridge at 4 ℃ or below, while frozen foods should be stored in a freezer at -18 ℃ or below. Do not thaw frozen foods at room temperature as bacteria may multiply rapidly in food. It is preferable to defrost frozen foods in a fridge or microwave.
Also, remember that healthy eating is as important as safe eating. When enjoying hotpot, we should pay attention to our consumption amount and follow a balanced diet. It is better to eat more vegetables with high dietary fibre content. If there are nutrition labels for hotpot products, we can make healthier food choices by referring to their nutritional contents and choosing those lower in fat, sodium (salt) and sugars.