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This festive season, don't give your loved ones food poisoning

Blog post | 11 Dec 2023

It's peak entertaining season for many Australians, but most household kitchens aren't designed to cater for a crowd. Additionally, at outdoor barbecues, food is often left out to perish in the heat. Food poisoning is a real danger.

Leaving food out at the wrong temperature for too long is a risk, as is using leftovers incorrectly and practising poor hygiene. These actions can put you and your guests at risk of food poisoning, which includes symptoms like abdominal cramps, diarrhoea or vomiting.

Follow these food safety tips to help ensure your festive season is happy, healthy and doesn't involve a trip to hospital.

Know the temperature danger zone

You should not keep food between 5°C and 60°C — the 'temperature danger zone' — for more than 2 hours, advises the Food Safety Information Council. Keeping food somewhere in between these temperatures for many hours can allow bacteria to grow to unsafe levels, which could make you, or someone else, sick.

Ideally, food should be chilled or frozen at 5°C or less or kept warm and served at 60°C and above.

Remember these rules:

  • In the first 2 hours, eat food immediately, or keep at or below 5°C, or at or above 60°C.
  • If perishable food has been in the temperature danger zone for 2 to 4 hours, you should use it immediately.
  • If perishable food has been in the temperature danger zone for more than 4 hours, toss it.

Love your leftovers

The average Australian household throws out $2,500 worth, or 312kg, of food each year. So it's good for your bank balance and the environment to eat leftovers.

But consume with caution. Eating days-old turkey or prawns that smell like a science experiment carries risks.

To avoid the risk of food poisoning, refrigerate or freeze leftovers within 2 hours of cooking them, dividing them into small containers so they cool quickly. Store leftovers in the fridge and eat within 2 to 4 days, or for up to several months in the freezer.

When reheating food, ensure that it's hot all the way through, and heat to steaming hot to help kill any bacteria.

If you're sending guests home with leftovers, give them ice packs or blocks from the freezer to keep their food chilled on the way home.

According to Food Standards Australia New Zealand, an estimated 4.67 million cases of food poisoning occur in Australia each year, on average resulting in 47,900 hospitalisations and 86 deaths.

Beware the raw egg

Food-poisoning bacteria can survive and grow quickly in festive foods that contain raw egg — such as egg nog, mousse and tiramisu — if they're not handled properly.

Follow these tips from the Food Safety Information Council to reduce the risk:

  • Dishes containing raw eggs that aren't going to be well cooked before being eaten should not be served to people at greater risk of food poisoning, such as young children, pregnant females, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.
  • Check your eggs for cracks. If cracked, it's safest to discard them or cook the egg thoroughly, for example, in a baked cake. The same rule applies if you drop pieces of egg shell in your egg mixture.
  • Wash your hands with soap and running water and dry thoroughly before and after handling eggs, so you don't contaminate other food.
  • If you are not going to cook the eggs, don't separate the yolk from the white using the shell since that could contaminate the raw egg. Consider investing in a plastic egg separator.
  • Prepare raw egg foods just before you are going to consume them and refrigerate immediately at 5°C or below, so bacteria cannot grow.
  • Keep your eggs refrigerated in the carton you purchased them in.

What should I do if I get food poisoning?

If you get food poisoning, you should stay at home from work or school and drink plenty of fluids.

You should see a doctor if you’re in a high-risk group (pregnant, elderly, very young or weakened immunity).

You should also see a doctor, if you have very severe symptoms, symptoms for more than 3 days, or blood in your vomit or poo, or if you can’t keep fluids down for more than a day.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

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