Food Safety Focus (210th Issue, January 2024) – Article 2
Hot Tips for Safe Hot Pot
Reported by Mr. Arthur YAU, Scientific Officer,
Risk Communication Section, Centre for Food Safety
Hot pot is a popular choice for meals, especially when the weather is cold. It also easily accommodates many people for social gatherings at home, where sliced meat, seafood, vegetables and noodles are boiled in a pot of water, soup or congee set on the dining table, and consumed after dipping in condiments, along with lively conversations. In this article, we will share some tips for a safe and healthy hot pot meal.
Figure : Hot pot is popular choice for dining at home, especially when with a group of people
Be Smart and Use “5 Keys to Food Safety” When Preparing Hot Pot
When purchasing hot pot ingredients, buy from reputable, licensed retailers. Make sure that the hot pot ingredients are fresh and in good condition. For prepackaged food, ensure the packages are intact and the products are still within the use-by date.
Maintaining personal, food, and environmental hygiene is necessary throughout preparation. Wash your hands before handling food, before eating, after touching raw meat or seafood, and before touching ready-to-eat food. Wash hands properly with liquid soap for at least 20 seconds. Utensils and food contact surfaces should be cleansed regularly. When washing vegetables, wash them thoroughly under running water. When preparing shellfishes and bivalves, scrub and wash the outer shells with water to remove dirt. Soak live bivalves like calms in water for half a day to reduce the amount of sand and microorganisms. Remove the intestines and gonads from scallops to reduce the risk of contaminants. However, be careful when washing raw meat and poultry, as pathogens may cause contamination through splashes. Clean and disinfect the sink and its surroundings afterwards.
During a hot pot meal, raw and cooked ingredients are often put close to each other for ease of use. Such practice will increase the chance of pathogens from the raw ingredients contaminating the cooked food and also the risk of cross contamination. Use different sets of chopsticks and utensils to handle raw and cooked food separately. Avoid putting too many dishes on the table to minimise food-to-food cross-contamination.
Inadequate cooking is a major food safety risk in a hot pot. Raw products may harbour harmful bacteria and viruses which may still survive if food is undercooked. It can subsequently cause food poisoning after consumption. Whenever water or soup is added, food should only be picked up after the soup has come to a full boil. Do not overfill the pot to prevent uneven cooking. Care should be taken to ensure that larger pieces of food are thoroughly cooked to a core temperature of at least 75°C before consumption. Oysters and shellfish should be heated to a more stringent requirement of an internal temperature of 90°C for 90 seconds or boiled at 100°C until their shells are open and continue for 3 to 5 minutes to ensure the inactivation of common foodborne viruses like hepatitis A and Norovirus. Thorough cooking can destroy common pathogenic bacteria like Salmonella spp.,Vibrio parahaemolyticus, Listeria monocytogenes, or viruses like Norovirus and hepatitis A that may be present in hot pot ingredients.
After bringing the hot pot ingredients home, store them properly. Keep frozen products in a freezer at -18°C or below and chilled products in the chiller compartment of a refrigerator at 4°C or below. Do not defrost food at room temperature. Defrost properly, preferably in a chiller overnight, or under cold running water or in a microwave. Cook the food instantly and do not re-freeze it if the latter two defrosting methods were used. Some small frozen items like dumplings and fish balls can be boiled directly from a frozen state and defrosting is not necessary.
Other Issues that are Worth Noting
Avoid consuming raw eggs, including as part of a dip, due to the Salmonella risk. Use pasteurised shell eggs instead. Also, condiments like wasabi or strong wine used in marinating raw seafood cannot kill the bacteria or parasites present. Only foods that are intended for raw consumption can be eaten raw. Choose soup bases with a lower fat and sodium content like plain water or a clear broth. Maintain a balanced diet and include more vegetables as part of the hot pot meal, avoid overindulgence in high salt (sodium) and/or high fat food like fish balls, beef balls, imitation crab sticks, sausages, instant noodles, fatty meat, offal and bones, sacha and mala soup bases, etc. Use condiments like soy sauce sparingly. Do not consume foods when they are still scalding hot. Bon Appetit!