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Bean sprouts – have there ever problems with contaminated bean sprouts in Australia?

Outbreaks of food-borne illness both in Australia and overseas have been associated with eating seed sprouts. Most seed sprouts are consumed raw, therefore do not receive any form of heat treatment prior to consumption which would inactivate pathogens (if present). A 2005 Salmonella outbreak in WA of 125 cases was linked to alfalfa sprouts and a 2006 Salmonella outbreak of 15 cases in Victoria was linked to alfalfa sprouts.

To eat bean sprouts safely adhere to the use by date displayed on seed sprout packaging and follow storage directions on the seed sprout packaging and store seed sprouts at 5ºC or below. Avoid cross contamination from other risky foods such as meat or poultry. Washing sprouts has been found to be not very effective as laboratory studies have shown that bacteria can be internalised in the sprouts, making it difficult wash off/sanitise, and bacteria can be protected in a biofilm on the sprout surface. People in the 4 vulnerable demographics (young children, people 70+, immune-compromised or pregnant) should not eat uncooked sprouts of any kind, raw or lightly-cooked eggs, or other foods prey to listeria such as paté. or soft cheeses. See more food safety advice on fruit and vegetables.

Butter – should it be refrigerated?

Butter has less salt than it had in the past and should be kept refrigerated, you can soften it before use by removing from the fridge for a while. Dairy Australia advises: Always check the use-by date, to ensure natural freshness and quality. Butter is best kept refrigerated at 4˚C, protected from light and sealed in its original container or wrapping until it is used as it readily absorbs odours from other foods. Butter will keep refrigerated for up to eight weeks, but it is best purchased when required rather than stored. Butter will soften at 30°C and melt at 35°C. In warmer climates, it is best kept refrigerated. As temperatures rise, the fats in butter slowly oxidise and the butter will become rancid. Properly sealed, butter may be kept frozen for up to 12 months.

Campylobacter – why is it increasing?

Campylobacter is the most common reported cause of foodborne illness in Australia– last year, over 17,700 confirmed cases notified to health authorities.

Yuck factor: this is only a record of people who have had a poo sample sent for testing, and it has come back positive for Campylobacter ie can imagine the true number of cases will be much higher. The cause of the illness is not known for the majority of cases but some possibilities could be fashionable cooking techniques and popularity of new preparations e.g “parfaits” in restaurants, caterers etc or improved surveillance or the popularity of paté (check how to prepare paté safely).

Chocolate – what is the safest way to store handmade chocolates?

If you buy loose handmade chocolates always ask in the shop how to store them and when to use them by as some ingredients may require refrigeration. Pass on this information to the recipient if the chocolates are going to be a present. If the chocolates are sold in a box check the best before/use by date and any storage instructions such as ‘ keep refrigerated under 5°C’.

Christmas in July – are the food safety risks the same as Christmas in December?

Christmas in July celebrations are becoming popular in Australia. The main difference in preparing a Christmas feast in July is that the weather is cooler and we’re less likely to eat outdoors but food poisoning bacteria can grow just as well in food left unrefrigerated in a well heated house. The main Entertaining and Christmas food safety tips still apply:

Keep things clean;:  You may be preparing food for large numbers of people, increasing the risk of food poisoning. You may also be cooking for vulnerable people like the elderly, small children and pregnant women – so practising good hygiene and safe food preparation and storage is essential.

Turkey: You can defrost the turkey in the fridge but this will take several days so it’s safest to ask your butcher or supplier to defrost the turkey in their cool room so you can pick it up in time for your celebration and refrigerate. Make sure your turkey is thoroughly cooked all the way through to make sure any bacteria are killed – use a meat thermometer to check that the temperature in the thickest part reaches 75°C. Because stuffing slows down cooking and cooling, it is best cooked separately.

Ham: Your  ham will keep several weeks with proper handling. Remove it from its plastic wrap, cover it with clean cloth soaked in water and vinegar so it doesn’t dry out, follow any instructions on the packaging and store it in the fridge below 5°C. Reduced salt hams are now becoming popular but will not last as long as conventional hams so follow instructions on the packaging.

Leftovers: For some reason we always seem to end up with more food than we started with at a Christmas celebration, so refrigerate leftovers immediately after the meal. If leftovers have been in the temperature danger zone for more than 2 hours they should be eaten or refrigerated immediately and for more than 4 hours they must be thrown out. Always store perishable leftovers in the fridge and use them up within two to three days. When reheating food ensure that it is hot all the way through (use a meat thermometer to ensure it is at least 75°C in the centre).

Dropping food - if you drop food on the floor it is ok to eat if you pick it up before 5 seconds?

Bacteria don’t politely wait 5 seconds to contaminate food dropped on the floor. Your floor will be contaminated from dirty shoes, by pets walking through and general day-to-day life. A preliminary UK study found fewer bacteria on carpets than smooth floor surfaces (but you don’t want to end up eating bits of carpet fluff on your food either).

Duck – how do I handle and cook it safely?

Basically identifying when duck is cooked is the same as for chicken: the internal temperature of the thickest part of duck should be 75° when tested with a meat thermometer (BEST METHOD), cook at the temperature, for the time period recommended on the packaging (2nd BEST METHOD) or the juices run clear and no blood should be apparent.

The difficulty is that duck meat, unlike chicken, may still appear red or deep pink even though it is safely cooked. The reasons for this vary:

  • marinades or other additives suggested in duck recipes are generally stronger flavours and often more highly coloured than those suggested for chicken
  • duck meat is much redder than chicken to begin with because ducks, even when bred for cooking, are birds of flight which chickens are not. Flight requires lots of oxygen in the muscles, and the myoglobin, which holds the oxygen, provides a deep red or brownish colour. Similar deepening of colour, giving a brown meat, can be seen in the legs of chickens and turkeys.

When buying fresh duck:

  • make it the last item on the shopping list and pick up just before going home
  • avoid cross contamination by ensuring the duck juices are contained and do not drip on other items even those which are well packaged as the juices will get on hands, and may be spread from item to item, benchtops when groceries are unpacked, children’s cheeks, your own mouth, etc
  • refrigerate (5° or below) duck immediately and use within 1 or 2 days, or freeze in its original packaging. If kept frozen continuously, it will be safe indefinitely.

The best methods to defrost frozen duck are in the fridge or the microwave – never on the benchtop, sink or in other locations. In the refrigerator, whole birds may take 1 to 2 days or longer; parts, about 1 day. Once the raw poultry defrosts, it will be safe in the refrigerator for another day or so before cooking. When microwave-defrosting a duck plan to cook it immediately after thawing because some areas of the food may become warm and begin to cook. Holding partially cooked food is not recommended because any bacteria present may not have been destroyed.

Marinate duck in the refrigerator up to 2 days. Boil used marinade before brushing it on the cooked poultry, uncooked it’s a scary, microbial soup. Discard any uncooked leftover marinade.

Eggs – is it safe to use the eggshell to remove broken shell from my egg mix?

Answer: No – the outside of the shell could be contaminated with food poisoning bacteria so remove any shell pieces with a clean spoon or fork. If you accidentally drop pieces of shell into your egg mixture, it too could be contaminated and the mixture will need thorough cooking. See more about egg safety.

Eggs – what are the food safety risks for raw or undercooked eggs?

Eggs can be contaminated with Salmonella on the outside of the shell – this can be transferred to the inside of the egg if you use cracked or dirty eggs or have poor food handling/hygiene. The number of outbreaks in Australia linked to uncooked foods containing raw egg eg mayonnaise, aioli, tartare sauce, desserts such as mousse. Salmonella from egg surface to other products where, if stored at room temperature, the Salmonella can grow. Keep eggs in box in the fridge and use by their best before date. Check out our advice on egg food safety.

Eggs – what does it mean if an egg has feathers and chicken poo on the shell?

It means they can be a higher risk for causing food poisoning because dirty eggs are more likely to have harmful bacteria such as Salmonella on them.  OzFoodNet has shown that consumption of foods containing raw or minimally cooked eggs is currently the single largest cause of foodborne Salmonella outbreaks. This is particularly true for dishes containing uncooked or minimally cooked eggs such as eggnog, uncooked desserts such as mousses and tiramisu, hollandaise sauces, fresh mayonnaise, aioli, health shakes with added raw egg or steak tartar. In their most recent nine-year survey period they have linked 68 food poisoning outbreaks to eggs with 1404 Australians becoming ill, 322 hospitalised and 2 deaths. Salmonella can be present on the shells of any eggs and are not visible. Where chicken feathers or poo are visible there can be a greater chance of Salmonella present. It is illegal to sell cracked or dirty eggs. See our advice on egg safety

Fire – what should I do with food after a fire?

One of the dangers of a fire can be toxic fumes from burning materials.

Chemicals used to fight the fire can also contain toxic materials.

The heat from a fire can cause bacteria in food to multiply and grow so:

  • throw out any food that has been near a fire, including food in cans and jars even if it appears okay
  • any raw food, or food in packaging such as cardboard, plastic wrap, screw-topped jars and bottles should also be thrown out
  • throw out food from a refrigerator as the refrigerator seal isn’t airtight, fumes can get inside
  • wash cooking utensils exposed to fire-fighting chemicals in soapy hot water, then sanitise in 1 tablespoon of chlorine bleach per 2 litres of water and rinse.

Floods – what should I do with food after a flood?

Floodwater can be contaminated with sewage, agricultural and industrial waste, and other substances that can cause illness.

There is a danger that any food, surfaces and cooking utensils that have come into contact with floodwater might be contaminated.

Spills and sewage discharges can also contaminate water supplies and food gardens.

Throw out food that might not be safe to eat

Follow these steps:

  • Throw out food that has come into contact with floodwater or has an unusual odour, colour or texture. Do not taste or cook it.
  • Check canned and unopened bottled food and throw out any cans that are dented, swollen or damaged. Some cans and bottled products might be salvageable. For cans that appear useable:
    • remove the label and thoroughly wash the outside of the can with drinking-quality water
    • sanitise the can in bleach (check the bleach container label for the concentration of bleach recommended) for 1 minute, then rinse in drinking-quality water
    • re-label the can with a waterproof pen
  • Vegetable gardens can take a month to become suitable for harvest after flood or sewage discharge. Discard all leafy green produce or damaged vine or dropped tree fruits. After 1 month, wash other vegetables then sanitise in a weak bleach solution of 1 tablespoons bleach to 2 litres of water. Then rinse in drinking-quality water, peel and use. Monitor announcements and consult local authorities after other sorts of contamination.

If in doubt throw it out.

Clean and sanitise surfaces and food utensils

Follow these steps:

  • Carefully check dishes, pots, pans, cutlery and kitchen equipment that might have been in contact with floodwater. Throw away damaged or cracked items, items made from porous material such as wood, plastic or rubber including wooden chopping boards as they cannot be adequately sanitised.
  • Wash utensils and surfaces in hot, soapy, drinking-quality water. Take apart and clean the non-electrical pieces of any kitchen equipment that can be safety taken apart and then rinse in clean, hot water.
  • Sanitise silverware, metal utensils, pots, pans and kitchen equipment in pieces by boiling in water for 10 minutes. Sanitise dishes by immersing glass, porcelain, china and enamel-ware for 10 minutes in a disinfecting solution of 1 tablespoon of chlorine bleach per 2 litres of warm water. Then rinse. Clean cupboards and counters with hot soapy water then rinse with a chlorine bleach solution before storing dishes or food.
  • Air dry items because towels might have been splashed with contaminated water.

Commercial and most domestic dishwashers are capable of sanitising all eating and cooking utensils as part of their normal cycle.

Water for drinking

In an emergency such as a flood or contamination event, tap water and private water supplies such as from tanks, wells and bores sometimes might not be safe to drink and use for cooking and cleaning.

Monitor public announcements and those from the local water supplier to know if tap water is safe to use.

Private water supplies should be tested before using again – contact your council.

If the water is unsafe:

  • use only bottled, boiled or treated water – in that order of preference – for drinking, cooking or preparing food, washing utensils and surfaces, brushing teeth, hand washing, making ice, and bathing
  • only treat contaminated water if no drinking-quality water can be obtained:
  • filter cloudy water through a clean cloth or allow it to settle, then pour off the clear water for boiling. Boil the water vigorously for 1 minute then leave it to cool and store in a clean, covered container. Boiling will ensure water safe from most types of harmful bugs but will not remove chemical contaminants
  • only if water cannot be boiled, treat it with chlorine or iodine tablets. Follow the directions that come with the tablets. This might not kill all bugs and will not remove any chemical contaminants.

Thoroughly clean any containers used to store water with hot soapy drinking-quality water, then rinse with a bleach solution before use.

Food – can you tell if food is contaminated because it smells or tastes ‘off’?

You can get food poisoning from food that smells and tastes great. Bacteria can grow quickly in food that has been left in the temperature danger zone between 5°C and 65°C C with no change in the food’s smell or appearance. When food smells “off” it is usually due to spoilage bacteria growing and they may not make you sick.

Food – which types of food are likely to cause food poisoning if cooked or stored incorrectly?

Raw egg disheschickenminced meatbean or seed sprouts (eg alfalfa sprouts), seafood and cooked rice have all been implicated in outreaks in Australia. OzFoodNet has determined that poultry is the primary source of Campylobacter outbreaks in Australia and the increase in Salmonella infections in recent years are linked to raw or minimally cooked egg dishes. Most people don’t recognize seed sprouts as a risk- a 2005 Salmonella outbreak in WA of 125 cases and a 2006 Salmonella outbreak of 15 cases in Victoria were both linked to alfalfa sprouts. Most people are surprised that cooked rice is a food poisoning risk. Once it is cooked and begins to cool then toxins can be formed by Bacillus cereus. This bacterium can form heat resistant spores and a heat resistant toxin. If cooked food is allowed to cool slowly the spores can germinate and reheating or lightly cooking the food will not destroy this toxin.

Food poisoning – is it most likely to be from the last meal I ate?

No. Everyone blames their food poisoning on the last meal they ate but some forms of food poisoning can take days or even weeks to eventuate. This is what makes it very difficult sometimes for health professionals to find what causes food poisoning.

Food poisoning – is it only a mild disease?

No. While vomiting and diarrhea are the most common symptoms, food poisoning in extreme forms can cause reactive arthritis, kidney or nerve damage and hepatitis. Each year there are an estimated 4.1 million cases of food poisoning which result in 31,920 hospitalisations, 86 deaths and 1 million visits to doctors.

Fridge – how do I stop my guests always opening the fridge when I’m entertaining?

Take the drinks out of the fridge! Drinks are actually “ice cold” if put on ice! A leak proof container is all that’s needed. Outside is best as it keeps the crowd outdoors ensuring the fridge will have a chance at running at 5°C or below, and that the cook can work in peace.

Fridges – the fridge at work is so scary I won’t use it. Am I being overly cautious?

Workplace fridges are scary as far as food safety is concerned. They are often badly packed, rarely cleaned and the wrong temperature. Fridges should be at or below 5° Celsius. Ask your OH&S officer to purchase a fridge thermometer. All items should be covered, in separate containers and anything which may drip should be on the bottom shelf. Spills should be wiped up immediately and the entire fridge cleaned often. Add fridge sorting and cleaning to kitchen duties – someone needs to be responsible. Check our fridge and freezer safety advice.

Fridges – will they always stay at the same temperature?

No. While modern fridges keep their temperature better than earlier models did check with a fridge thermometer that your fridge is running at 5°C or below, especially when the weather starts warming up. If you are entertaining put the drinks on ice and use the fridge for the food, this will stop the fridge door being opened more than it needs to. See more on fridge safety

Freezer times – how long cooked vegetables and cooked meats combined with vegetables can be kept in the freezer?

Storage life depends greatly on temperature. From a safety point of view you can store frozen vegetables, meat and combinations of these for years without any problem of food poisoning. However, with time there will be a loss in nutrient value and quality. If you have a freezer/fridge combination you can store frozen product up to six weeks without any major quality effects. With a chest freezer which operating at minus 18°C, the time is longer – three months or more depending on the fat content. The higher the fat content the shorter the shelf life. Your freezer manufacturer usually lists recommended storage times in the door or lid of your freezer. See CSIRO’s website for more information on food storage. Check our fridge and freezer safety advice.

Frozen berries & Hep A – what do I do if I’ve purchased them?

There is more information on the Food Standards Australia New Zealand website concerning the recall of berries due to Hepatitis A during February 2015.

Frozen meat or chicken – if you’ve defrosted frozen meat or chicken can it be safely refrozen?

From a safety point of view it is fine to refreeze defrosted meat or chicken or any frozen food as long as it was defrosted in a fridge running at 5°C or below. You may have lost some quality in defrosting then refreezing as the cells break down a little and the food can become slightly watery. Another option is to cook the defrosted food and then divide into small portions and refreeze once it has stopped steaming.

Frozen meat and chicken - is it safe to defrost in water in the sink?

No. Only ever thaw meat, chicken or other frozen food in the fridge under 5C (it will take a while) or using the defrost function in your microwave. Bacteria will love to grow if you defrost in water in the sink and, however well you seal the meat or chicken in plastic the bacteria will get into the water contaminating your sink and kitchen. This can give you a nasty bout of food poisoning.

Gastro at work – whenever someone gets gastro at work we all seem to, how can I avoid this?

Make sure everyone washes their hands with soap and dries them thoroughly after using the bathroom and before eating food. Make sure soap and paper towels are available and you’ll find less gastro and even fewer colds and flu. See our handwashing advice.

Ham – how long will my Xmas ham keep?

Your Christmas ham will keep several weeks with proper handling. After reading the packaging labels, remove it from its plastic wrap, cover it with clean cloth soaked in water and vinegar so it doesn’t dry out, and store it in the fridge below 5°C. Reduced salt hams are now becoming popular but will not last as long as conventional hams so think how much you are going to use in the next week or so and freeze some for later.

Insulated thermos type containers – how can I check they are working properly?

You can test the thermos by:

  • Putting food in it as hot as possible
  • Leave it for 6 hours (gives a built in safety factor)
  • If it is still steaming hot (about 60°C) after that time it is insulating well.

When using a thermos:

  • Preheat it with boiling water for about 5 minutes before adding food
  • Add the food as hot as possible.

Note: If heating food in a microwave, make sure that all the food is hot by stirring during heating and following the recommended standing time.

Leftovers – how long are leftovers safe to eat?

Refrigerate  or freeze leftovers immediately after the meal. Divide into small containers so they cool quickly.  If leftovers have been in the temperature danger zone for more than 2 hours they should be eaten or refrigerated immediately and for more than 4 hours they must be thrown out. Always store perishable leftovers in the fridge and use them up within two to three days. When reheating food ensure that it is hot all the way through (use a meat thermometer to ensure it is at least 75°C in the centre).

Meat thermometers – how do you use them?

Whole pieces of meat, such as steak, beef, pork and lamb, can be cooked to taste (rare, medium-rare and well done) as long as the outside of the meat is fully cooked to kill external bacteria. Meats that are mechanically tenderized, marinated and moisture enhanced are an exception as bacteria can be introduced into the meat during the processing and they should be treated as stuffed, rolled or minced meats.

Always cook chicken, rolled and stuffed meats, tenderized, marinated and moisture enhanced meats, sausages and minced meat, such as hamburger patties and sausages, so that in the centre of the thickest part the temperature reaches 750C. This is because food poisoning bacteria can be present all the way through these types of meat products as well as on the surface and only thorough cooking will kill them. To check whether these foods have been sufficiently cooked to 75°C you need to use a meat thermometer.

Meat thermometers are available from good kitchen shops and some electrical stores ranging in price from between $12 to $40 or more. In the upper price range, digital thermometers can be easier to read and those with fine sensitive tips can be more accurate. Using a thermometer to test when food is cooked not only ensures safe food, it also avoids guessing and ensures you cook your food to perfection every time.

To test the temperature the thermometer probe should be inserted in the thickest part of the meat, such as the thigh on poultry, not touching bone or gristle which can give a false reading. Poultry, sausages, hamburgers, tenderized, marinated and moisture enhanced meats and rolled roast meat should reach an internal temperature of 75°C to ensure all food poisoning bacteria are killed.

Meat thermometers that are to be left in the oven or hooded BBQ while the meat is cooking have to be heat resistant. Two examples are:

The oven proof

This should be inserted into the meat before it is placed in the oven or cooked, with the dial facing forward so it can easily be read.

iStock_000022272067_Ovenproof

Digital

iStock_000040549442_Digital

The probe is placed in the meat and the wire run between the oven door seals to the digital read out which sits outside the oven.

There are also:

  • Digital thermometers that can be set up and linked to a phone app so you can monitor cooking temperature remotely
  • Instant read thermometers that aren’t oven proof but can be briefly inserted into the meat outside the oven for a few minutes to give a read out
  • Pop up thermometers which are often purchased in packaged poultry or roasts and pop up when done – note these are not as accurate as other types of meat thermometer
  • Special microwave meat thermometers.

Always carefully read the instructions before using a meat thermometer.

Meat thermometer probes should be thoroughly cleaned each time they are used to check the temperature while cooking so as not to transfer contamination, after use and before storage.

Milk - is high pressure processed milk safe?

High pressure processing pasteurises milk but without using heat – it is not raw milk. The Food Standards Code requires milk to be pasteurised – either by heat or by other methods that achieve an equivalent food safety outcome.

Our member, the NSW Food Authority, has worked closely with the company using this form of pasteurisation to ensure the process they are using will lead to a product being sold to consumers which is safe, pasteurised and most certainly not raw. Unpasteurised raw milk is not safe, it has caused illness and even fatalities in the past and it is not permitted for sale for human consumption in Australia.

Minced meat and chicken – how do you know when they are cooked safely?

meat thermometer is the only way to know your food is cooked correctly to an internal 75°C, checking whether the juices run clear or the meat is pink is not an indication.

Minced meat, sausages, hamburgers and rolled roast – can these be served rare?

No, they must be cooked until the reach 75ºC in the centre. Often the problem is not linking the preparation technique to the right cooking method. For instance Newspoll research the Council did last November indicated that depending on age 85% – 91% of people know to cook rolled turkey all the way through, but if it’s a rolled leg of lamb the figures fall to 37% – 52%. So the link is to the type of meat – poultry has to be cooked all the way through, whereas lamb doesn’t. However the issue is not only with the food, but with the preparation technique. When the meat is rolled, the outside surface, where bugs live on all meat, is now inside, so to kill the bugs the meat has to be raised above the killing temperature all the way through. The same goes for sausages, hamburgers, or any other meats where the technique – mincing, rolling, etc – moves the original outside to the inside. Most of minced meat used in Australia is used in dishes that are well cooked, and Australians, unlike Americans, don’t generally eat hamburgers rare. See our advice on red meat food safety. and how to use a meat thermometer.

Mouldy food – Is it safe to eat if the mould is cut off?

Mushrooms – is it safe to eat wild mushrooms?

Commercially grown and sold mushrooms are safe to eat.

However, the Death Cap Mushroom is a deadly, poisonous introduced fungus that is responsible for 90% of all deaths related to mushroom consumption. It is commonly found in South Eastern Australia near established oak trees and possibly some other trees, usually during later summer to early winter after good rain or heavy irrigation.

iStock_000060364882_DeathCapIts cap is 40-160mm wide, may be white, but usually pale green to yellow in colour, or fawn if the mushroom is older, or located in full sun. The cap can be slippery or sticky to touch, and shiny when dry. Its gills are white, crowded and not attached to stalk. Its stalk is normally white in colour, but may be pale green and up to 15cm long with a papery cup shaped volva at the base (often buried in the ground). Normally a skirt-like ring is present high on the stem.

One Mushroom contains enough poison to kill an adult. Cooking or peeling does not inactivate the toxin, and all parts are poisonous. Onset of symptoms occurs 6-24 hours or more after ingestion of mushrooms. Symptoms include violent stomach pains, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. Symptoms may subside for 1 to 2 days giving a false impression of recovery. However, by this stage the toxin will have already caused serious liver damage. Death from liver failure can occur many days after ingestion.

A person who suspects that they may have eaten poisonous mushrooms should seek immediate medical attention, and where possible take a whole mushroom sample for identification. The sooner the treatment begins the better the chances of survival. Medical assistance should be sought at hospital emergency departments or by calling your local Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 (24 hours).

For absolute safety avoid any wild mushrooms, unless definitely identified as non-poisonous.

Pasteurised milk – is it less healthy than unpasteurised milk?

Pasteurised milk is as nutritious as unpasteurised milk. Unpasteurised milk is riskier as it can be contaminated with harmful bacteria

Pasteurisation (heat treatment for a short period to kill harmful bacteria) has done a great deal to reduce food borne disease over the years. It is illegal to sell unpasteurised (raw) cow’s milk in Australia for human consumption and health authorities recommend that it should not be consumed. No matter how carefully the animals are milked there is always a risk of harmful bacterial being present. Consuming raw milk can cause severe illness due to the possible presence of harmful bacteria such as Shiga Toxin–Producing Escherichia coli, Campylobacter and Salmonella. Pregnant women, young children (particularly babies), the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems are at greatest risk of getting sick and the consequences for them can be more severe.

Plastic drink bottles – can I reuse them?

Yes, you can but used drink bottles can be contaminated from your mouth or touching the top with unwashed hands. So just refilling them can allow a range of harmful bugs to multiply in the water and give you gastroenteritis. To avoid this, after every use rinse out the bottle and leave to drain until completely dry. Refill the bottle and, if you are not using it in the next 2 hours, refrigerate it under 5°C.

Pork – does pork have to be cooked all the way through or can it safely be served rare like beef and lamb?

You can serve whole pieces of pork rare safely in Australia as the type of parasite (Trichinella) that has been a concern in pig meat overseas has never been detected in Australia. Minced products like sausages or hamburgers must be cooked to 75°C in the centre. See our advice on meat food safety.

Poultry – why must it be cooked all the way through?

Healthy birds carry pathogens such as Campylobacter and Salmonella. Birds are more difficult to process and can be contaminated from feather and gut contents. Australian surveys  have found over campylobacter in 80% of chicken meat and around 20% for Salmonella. Always cook poultry to 75°C in the thickest part of the bird – see our advice on safely handling poultrycross contamination and how to use a meat thermometer.

Power is off – how long will my fridge and freezer stay cold?

Modern refrigeration systems maintain food at safe temperatures. This helps reduce the growth of bacteria on your food which can lead to food poisoning. When there is a power outage you need to take extra measures to reduce the risk of food-related illness.

It is important to record the time the power went off. When a power cut is ongoing (that is, it lasts for more than 4 hours and there is no immediate likelihood of reconnection) food safety becomes an important issue.

Unless cold storage is available within 2 hours of a power cut, all potentially hazardous foods such as meat, poultry, seafood and ready-to-eat perishable food) that are stored in refrigerators or chillers need to be:

  • placed in alternative cold storage, for example coolers with ice or ice bricks, or into the fridges of family and friend’s
  • eaten immediately
  • if you have a fridge thermometer and have recorded the time the power went off, eaten immediately or thrown away if the temperature rises to above 5 degrees for over 2 hours
  • if you don’t have a fridge thermometer and another cold storage area is not immediately available after 2 hours.

Time and temperature are the most important measurements used to determine whether food needs to be regarded as potentially unsafe.

The ‘4 hour/2 hour rule’ for safe storage of food

The following actions are recommended for any potentially hazardous food that has been at temperatures between 5 °C and 60 °C for a total of:

  • less than 2 hours – refrigerate or use immediately
  • longer than 2 hours but less than 4 hours – use immediately
  • 4 hours or longer – must be thrown out.

Make a note of the time the power went off. If available, use a watch and a thermometer to follow these time and temperature recommendations. Eat perishable foods first and save the dried and canned food until last.

The advice offered here refers to any or all potentially hazardous food except those normally kept at room temperature or jams, pickles and other acid foods.

Important note: If you are unsure about the time that has passed or the temperature your food has been stored at then throwing the food out is the safest option.

Planned power cuts

The day or night before power is cut off, prepare in advance to store your food safely:

  • If possible, try to organise alternative refrigerated storage in advance, for example with relatives, friends or neighbours.
  • Avoid buying food that needs to be frozen or refrigerated until after the power is restored
  • Adjust the refrigerator to its coldest setting and remove fresh fruit and vegetables to prevent them being damaged. These items can be stored at room temperature
  • Set your freezer to its coldest setting
  • Place ice bricks, or freeze large blocks of ice, in the freezer for later use
  • If you can, freeze some of the items from your fridge for later use. This is a very safe option and is best done well before the power cut

Sudden or unplanned power cuts

A sudden or unplanned power cut will not allow much time for you to safely store your foods. Your food will remain safe in your refrigerator for 2 hours, but there are some steps you can take:

  • If you have sufficient space in the freezer, after 2 hours you should remove foods from the fridge. Place them in the freezer or esky with ice bricks.
  • Do not open the freezer door unless necessary, as this will reduce the time the contents will remain frozen.
  • If your freezer is efficient, and its door seals are in good condition, it can maintain foods in a frozen state for between 1 and 2 and a half days.
  • Relatives, friends or neighbours may be able to provide alternative storage.

During power cuts

Food stored in refrigerators

Your food will remain safe in your refrigerator for 2 hours. If it has been more than 4 hours, throw the food out. Don’t open the fridge door during the power cut, unless necessary.

The best option is to keep the refrigerated foods as cold as possible by not opening the door unless necessary to remove food to eat or check the temperature after 2 hours. or place items in the freezer. If this is not possible:

  • Remove ice bricks from the freezer and place in an esky.
  • Remove all meats, poultry, dairy and potentially hazardous food (for example dips, pâté, ham, prepared and cooked food) from the refrigerator and place in an cooler with frozen bricks or gel packs.
  • Salted butter, margarine and hard cheeses will remain safe at room temperature.
  • Place the ice or ice bricks throughout the stored food to ensure an even temperature. Make sure the lid of the cooler has a good seal.
  • If the temperature of the food stored in an cooler or refrigerator reaches more than 5 °C for less than 2 hours you should find alternative refrigeration at less than 5 °C or, if possible, freeze or use immediately.
  • Food stored in a refrigerator or esky at more than 5 °C for 4 hours or more should be thrown out.

Food stored in freezers

  • Freezers that are in good condition and operate at minus 15 °C or below can keep foods at safe temperatures for between 1 and 2 days. If the freezer door is kept shut, a full freezer can keep food chilled for up to 48 hours, while a half full freezer can be kept food chilled for 24 hours.
  • It is important that the doors of freezers are not opened unless necessary. Opening and closing the doors will reduce the time the contents will remain at safe temperatures.
  • Foods that have partly defrosted or defrosted but remain very cold (5 °C or less) can be refrozen.  Remember that some food types, for example ice cream which will thaw other foods defrost. Although there is no safety issue, some foods become icy or their texture will be damaged when refrozen and may not be usable after defrosting and refreezing.

Note that while there will not be a food safety issue in refreezing defrosted foods, the quality of the food may be slighted deteriorated. You have 2 options for food that has been stored in a freezer where the temperature has reached more than 5 °C for up to 2 hours:

  • Find alternative refrigeration at less than 5 °C or refreeze
  • Consume immediately.

If your food has been in a freezer where the temperature has reached more than 5 °C for more than 2 hours, but less than 4 hours, it should be consumed immediately.

Food stored in a freezer for more than 4 hours at more than 5 °C should be thrown out.

Food in the process of being cooked

Throw out food that was being cooked when the power failed if cooking cannot be completed properly within 2 hours. If food is already properly cooked, eat it within 2 hours or throw it out.

Refrigerated food – how long will it last?

Scombroid fish poisoning – what is it?

Scombroid poisoning is the resut of inadequate temperature control of fish. It can occur when fish is eaten that has not been chilled to 4°C or below .

The result is a high level of histamine building up in the fish flesh. Often misdiagnosed as an allergic reaction, symptoms vary but include:

  • burning and tingling of the lips and mouth
  • dizziness
  • flushing of the face
  • an itchy rash, often on the face, neck, chest and upper back
  • sweating
  • vomiting and diarrhoea
  • headaches
  • blurred vision
  • palpitations

Scombroid poisoning can be treated with anti-histamines but in severe cases, and particularly in those suffering from asthma, bronchial difficulties can occur and you should seek medical treatment.

Usually not of major concern, 2 deaths in Bali in 2014 have focused attention on Scombroid poisoning. The Conversation enlisted Bob Mead, Associate Professor Metabolic biochemist, toxicologist and Chair of the Forensic Biology and Toxicology program at Murdoch University to Explain.

See also:

NSW Food Authority Update on Sydney cafe scombroid poisoning Feb 2015

Natural toxins in food

NSW Food Authority. Fish – histamine poisoning

Queensland Health. Naturally occurring seafood toxins

Slow cookers and rice cookers – are they safe to use?

We always recommend following the manufacturers instructions on slow cookers to make sure the food is cooked properly. and that any cooked food is held at a holding setting with a temperature above 60°C. If the properly cooked food in a slow cooker is kept warm above 60 degrees celsius it should be safe – we suggest checking this with a food thermometer which you can purchase from a kitchen shop see our fact sheet on the temperature danger zone. Keeping rice warm in a rice cooker can allow Bacillus cereus to grow and produce toxins, see our fact sheet about pasta and rice safety. We would always recommend cooking rice and either consuming immediately or dividing into small portions so it can cool quickly and refrigerating or freezing straight away.

Turkey – what’s the safest way to defrost and cook it?

Turkeys can be big birds and a big problem if you don’t have a plan, so before buying a huge frozen turkey, read the label! Big turkeys take several days to defrost in the fridge, not to mention hours to cook properly, so think whether you really need one a whole, big one. Ask yourself what else are you serving and consider a part turkey, such as a breast, or turkey roll − much easier to defrost and cook to perfection. If you still opt for the whole turkey and cannot source a fresh bird ask your butcher or supplier to defrost the turkey in their cool room so you can pick it up in time for Christmas and refrigerate. Whether full turkey or turkey roll, this meat must be cooked all the way through so use a meat thermometer to check that the temperature in the thickest part reaches 75°C. Because stuffing slows down cooking and cooling, it is best cooked separately.

‘Use by’ date on a packaged food – what does it mean?

Not surprisingly a ‘use by’ date means exactly that: you must use or freeze the food by that date or you may get sick. A ‘best before’ date on a packaged food means that you can still eat it after that date but it may have lost some nutrition or quality.

Vegetarians – are they less likely to get food poisoning?

Sorry vegetarians, but many food poisoning outbreaks have been caused by improper handling of fruit and vegetable food items such as frozen berries, semi dried tomatoes orange juice, cooked rice, bean or alfalfa sprouts.

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