It's peak entertaining season for many Australians. But most household kitchens aren't designed to cater for a crowd, while 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 are using leftovers incorrectly and poor hygiene when preparing meals. Think gastroenteritis symptoms such as abdominal cramps, diarrhoea or vomiting, or flu-like symptoms.
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
Food should not be kept at between 5°C and 60°C — the 'temperature danger zone' — for more than 2 hours, advises the Food Safety Information Council. Ideally, it should be chilled or frozen at 5°C or less and cooked at 60°C and above. Keeping food somewhere in between for many hours can allow bacteria to grow to unsafe levels, which could make you, or someone else, sick.
Remember these rules:
- If perishable food has been in the temperature danger zone for less than 2 hours, you can refrigerate it or use it immediately.
- 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 in the bin.
Love your leftovers
The average Australian household throws out $1,036 worth, or 345kg, 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 some risks.
To avoid the risk of food poisoning, refrigerate or freeze leftovers immediately after the meal, dividing them into small containers so they cool quickly. Store leftovers in the fridge and eat within 2 to 3 days.
When reheating food, ensure that it's hot all the way through — use a food thermometer to check that it's at least 75°C in the centre.
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.
An estimated 4.1 million cases of food poisoning occur in Australia each year, on average resulting in 31,920 hospitalisations, 86 deaths and 1 million visits to doctors.
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 small children, pregnant women, 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 are less likely to grow.
- Keep your eggs refrigerated in the carton you purchased them in.
For more information
- Read more about food safety here.
- Visit Food Standards Australia New Zealand to learn about safety, food regulations and recalls.
- The Food Safety Information Council can address many of your food safety questions.
- If you're unwell or worried about any symptoms, use the healthdirect online Symptom Checker or call healthdirect to speak with a registered nurse, 24 hours a day, on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria).
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