Common Mistakes That Mean Fad Batch Cooking Can Leave You With An Upset Stomach

Four hours after devouring a second serving of my homemade Ottolenghi tuna and cheese pasta bake recipe, my creation was rapidly evacuating my body.

I batch cooked three servings of the dish two weeks in advance and stored them in the freezer. Then, after thawing a portion in the fridge for a day, reheating in the microwave for three minutes, and eating, the night was punctuated by exhausting trips to the bathroom, and the next day I was trapped on the couch by fatigue.

The vomiting, diarrhea, and exhaustion pointed to a classic case of food poisoning, but Ottolenghi’s recipe was hardly on the sidelines, as the first serving he’d had a fortnight earlier was perfectly delicious.

No, it must have been something he had done with the plate since then. Welcome to the food poisoning dangers of batch cooking.

As our shopping budgets are squeezed by rising prices, more of us will be stretching our dollars further by cooking large, inexpensive pots of food to store and use later.

But there are rules to the process.

Four hours after devouring a second serving of my homemade Ottolenghi tuna and cheese pasta bake recipe, my creation was rapidly evacuating my body.

Dr. Matthew Gilmour, a microbiologist at the Norwich-based Quadram Institute (formerly the Food Research Institute), says tuna, cheese and pasta are fine to freeze and reheat; what was to blame, he says, was my timing.

Dr. Gilmour guesses I left the baking dish out on the kitchen counter for too long before popping it into Tupperware and freezing it. I let it cool and sit at room temperature for three hours, and that allowed the bacteria in the dish to multiply to harmful levels.

“After the food is cooked and cooled, wrap it up and put it in the freezer as quickly as possible, within two hours,” says Dr. Gilmour. He recommends covering it with aluminum foil while it cools, to prevent cross-contamination from, say, a fly.

You should also transfer the food to a new plate, says Sylvia Anderson, a food hygiene consultant based in Wimbledon, south London, as leaving it on a hot plate means it takes longer to cool down, giving the sprouts time to rise. bacteria present.

I was not aware of such rules, and I am not the only one, it seems.

Last year, there were 4,369 recorded cases of food poisoning in England and Wales, according to the UK Health Security Agency, but most cases go unreported. A 2018 study by the Food Standards Agency estimated that there are in fact 2.4 million cases per year.

And the trend of batch cooking may well increase that figure.

Sylvia Anderson says: ‘I’m surprised when I see people on Instagram [the social media platform] placing five-day batch-cooked portions in the refrigerator.

As our shopping budgets are squeezed by rising prices, more of us will be stretching our dollars further by cooking large, inexpensive pots of food to store and use later.  But there are rules to the process.

As our shopping budgets are squeezed by rising prices, more of us will be stretching our dollars further by cooking large, inexpensive pots of food to store and use later. But there are rules to the process.

‘In the hotel industry, pre-cooked foods are kept in the fridge for only three days. After that, it becomes unsafe, so it’s best to freeze the other two servings.

Another key mistake people make is storing things in the freezer for too long, she says. “In the industry, we say that convenience foods should be frozen for no more than a month.”

Sylvia suggests labeling foods with a date to keep track of how long they’ve been in the freezer.

You also shouldn’t assume freezing kills bugs, cautions Dr. Gilmour. The microbes are simply dormant and reanimate once thawed. This means that you also need to be careful when defrosting food from your freezer.

“If you set something aside to thaw at room temperature, there’s a higher risk of microbes multiplying,” says Dr. Gilmour. “But most organisms can’t grow below 4C, the temperature in your fridge.”

Microwave thawing can speed up the process, but stir the dish halfway through so it’s not just hot on the outside. Once safely thawed, reheat in the oven or microwave, but make sure the dish is piping hot all the way through.

However, frozen raw meat should never be thawed in the microwave, as the high temperature can encourage bacterial growth; it is best to let it thaw slowly in the refrigerator. And don’t be tempted to run the meat under lukewarm water, as any microbes present could contaminate the sink and nearby utensils.

There is a long list of organisms that can cause food poisoning, says Dr Gilmour, “but the three most likely in the UK are salmonella, campylobacter and listeria.”

These are bacteria that can be found in soil and water, which means that animals that feed on the ground are potential sources of contamination, as are vegetables grown in the soil or fertilized by the manure of infected animals.

Norovirus (known as the winter vomiting virus) is another common cause of food-related illness. But this is a virus rather than a bacteria, so it will not multiply in food. “A virus needs to infect a living human or animal cell in order to multiply,” says Dr. Gilmour.

However, norovirus contaminates dishes with fecal spores on the hands of an infected person, so it’s important to wash your hands before preparing meals.

Microbes that pass through the GI tract attach to the lining of your gut to survive. “This disrupts the ecosystem between the plethora of healthy bacteria in your gut,” says Dr. Gilmour, and his body tries to expel the “bad” bacteria by vomiting.

The vomiting, diarrhea, and exhaustion pointed to a classic case of food poisoning, but Ottolenghi's recipe was barely off the bench, as the first serving he'd had a fortnight earlier was perfectly delicious.

The vomiting, diarrhea, and exhaustion pointed to a classic case of food poisoning, but Ottolenghi’s recipe was barely off the bench, as the first serving he’d had a fortnight earlier was perfectly delicious.

“But diarrhea can sometimes be a survival strategy for the organism, a means of escaping and infecting others,” he adds.

Serious foodborne illnesses are rare, but the most vulnerable are the very old, the very young, or people being treated for other conditions, such as cancer.

However, listeria (found in soft cheese or contaminated meat, for example) can travel to the brain and cause meningitis, an infection of the protective tissues (or meninges) that surround the brain and spinal cord. Listeria can also cross the placenta of a pregnant woman and infect the fetus.

A Campylobacter infection (often associated with undercooked chicken) can, in rare cases, lead to Guillain-Barré syndrome, a disorder in which the immune system attacks nerves, causing severe movement problems in the limbs.

A friend of mine had this after food poisoning, possibly from an oven cooked chicken meal purchased from a supermarket. He endured a week of terrifying paralysis in bed, and then two years of mental stress, fatigue, and physical therapy to improve restricted movement in his hands and feet.

Dr. Gilmour says, “Cases like this are rare, but unfortunately it can take years to recover.”

Of course, most foodborne infections have only mild symptoms of vomiting, diarrhea, and fatigue. The advice from the NHS is to rest and stay hydrated, but avoid sugary drinks, as bacteria can feed on the high sugar content.

However, prevention is always better than cure, and one food to be especially careful about reheating is rice, which is home to bacillus cereus, a toxin-producing bacteria.

The rice to go could already have been reheated once in the restaurant. “The rule in our house is to never cook, freeze, or reheat food more than once,” says Dr. Gilmour.

And keep in mind that a simple salad can also harbor bacteria.

“I wouldn’t eat anything from my garden without washing it first,” says Sylvia Anderson, “because of possible contamination from bacteria found in soil, animal droppings, dirt, and worms.”

She recommends giving salads a ‘soak’ in a bowl of water with a teaspoon of salt to help destroy any bacteria present.

After 15 minutes, he says, the leaves will rise to the surface, leaving the debris behind.

While my illness was unpleasant, I know from my friend who had Guillain-Barré syndrome for a week that it could have been much, much worse.

But at least now I know how to batch cook safely.

headache detective

The surprising causes of headache. This week: stripes

Stripe patterns and shapes, such as those found on radiators, can trigger activity in the brain that may be responsible for causing a migraine attack.

This is especially true if you’re sensitive to light, according to studies from University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands and New York University. The researchers believe that the stripe patterns trigger a sequence of nerve activity in the brain known as gamma oscillations.

“Essentially, the stripe patterns can, in some people, cause an overreaction in the brain,” says Dr Andy Dowson, a headache specialist at King’s College Hospital in London. This would then cause a migraine that can last for several hours or more.

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