Food safety tips

Food regulations in Australia help maintain food safety up to the time it reaches the consumer. After that, it’s up to us – the consumer. Each year, there are an estimated 4.1 million cases of food poisoning in Australia – if you think you have food poisoning check the Healthdirect website for medical advice. A few simple actions can cut the likelihood of food poisoning drastically! Check our How you cook can make you (and others) crook poster.

The basics

Clean

Our health is in our hands!

Clean hands will decrease the possibility of food poisoning and other diseases markedly. Remember the 20/20 rule: wash hands for 20 seconds with warm soapy water dry hands for 20 seconds before starting to cook repeat frequently especially after handling raw meats, or vegetables with visible soil. Wash utensils and cutting boards with soap and warm water, and dry thoroughly, before handling different sorts of foods.This is particularly important when dealing with raw meats and vegetables.

Chill

Food that is meant to be kept chilled should be!

As soon as possible after purchase meat, poultry, dairy foods, vegetables, salad ingredients, etc should be refrigerated at or below 5ºC. Sounds easy but often food is left in hot cars or put in refrigerators that are not cold enough. A fridge thermometer should be used to make sure the temperature is at or below 5ºC. The temperature should be adjusted in line with changing seasons and the amount stored. Refrigerate leftovers promptly. Cooked food should be stored in covered containers and either put in the fridge to cool, or frozen immediately. Frozen foods should be defrosted in the fridge NOT on the kitchen bench. If in doubt, throw it out!

Cook

Properly cooking food minimises the risk of food poisoning

Cook chicken, minced or boned meats, hamburger, stuffed meats and sausages right through until they reach 75°C using a meat thermometer. Serve hot food steaming hot above 60ºC. Defrost frozen poultry and rolled and stuffed meats thoroughly before cooking. Always follow cooking instructions on packaged foods.

Separate

Cross-contamination is a major way for food borne diseases to spread

To avoid cross contamination keep raw and cooked foods separate when storing and preparing. Food should be stored in covered containers in the fridge and put raw meats and poultry in the bottom of the fridge so the juices don’t contaminate food on lower shelves. Don’t put cooked meat back on the plate the raw meat was on.

Food safety at home

Handwashing

Watch our video about how to wash your hands properly

A Food Safety Information Council survey found that most people don’t have the correct hand washing technique and an amazing 9 per cent of women and 27 per cent of men didn’t wash their hands at all when observed in a shopping centre washroom. A similar result has been found in US studies and may mean that we are getting complacent about good hand hygiene in western countries.

You might find with correct hand washing that you and your family may not only get less food poisoning but also less viral diseases like colds and flu. In the US, a study found that school children had fewer days off school sick once they had instituted a hand washing program.

Everything you touch is capable of transferring bugs onto your hands, but things like sores, pets, used handkerchiefs and tissues and the things you touch when you go to the toilet can be especially dirty.

How to wash your hands properly

Below are some tips on washing your hands correctly:

  • Wet your hands and rub together well to build up a good lather with soap as the suds help to carry the bugs away. Do this for at least 20 seconds and don’t forget to wash between your fingers and under your nails. You might have to use a nail brush
  • Rinse well under running water to remove the bugs from your hands
  • Dry your hands thoroughly on a clean towel for at least 20 seconds. Touching surfaces with moist hands encourages bugs to spread from the surface to your hands.
  • You can time 20 seconds by singing ‘happy birthday to you’ this is also a good way to encourage your children to wash their hands for the correct period.

Always wash and dry your hands:

  • before handling, preparing and eating food
  • after touching raw meat, fish, shell eggs or chicken
  • after using the toilet, attending to children’s (or others) toiletting and changing nappies
  • after blowing your nose
  • after touching a pet.

Do not touch sores, wounds and cuts when handling and preparing food.

Cross-contamination

Watch our short video about safe food preparation

What is cross contamination?

Cross contamination occurs when bacteria and viruses are transferred from a contaminated food or surface such as a chopping board and utensils to other food. For example, it can happen when bacteria from the surface of raw meat, poultry, seafood and raw vegetables (such as unwashed potatoes and other root vegetables), are transferred onto ready to eat foods, such as leaf and vegetable salads, rice or pasta salads, cooked meats, poultry, seafood or even fruit. The bacteria on the raw food are killed when the food is cooked, but the ready to eat food is eaten without further cooking – bacteria, viruses and all.

Keep it clean

Hands are among the obvious culprits in transferring bacteria and viruses from raw to ready to eat food, but direct contact with soiled raw foods, dirty chopping boards, knives and other food preparation implements and containers can also spread the contamination. Chopping boards, plates and knives, blenders, mixers, bowls, or any other surface that has been in contact with raw meats, seafood and soiled vegetables and herbs needs to be carefully washed with warm water and detergent, then rinsed and thoroughly dried before being used for ready to eat foods.

Raw foods

Cross contamination can also occur from incorrectly storing raw food in the fridge. If raw food is placed in direct contact with ready to eat foods, or if raw meat juices drip onto cooked foods, fruit and other ready to eat food, cross contamination can occur.

Raw foods should always be treated as though they are contaminated. Raw food, such as meat, poultry or seafood, should be stored in a rigid leak proof container or at the bottom of the fridge to prevent it coming into direct contact with ready to eat food or to prevent meat juices or liquids dripping onto other food. Ready to eat food should be stored covered in the fridge to further reduce the risks.

Chopping boards

In the home it really doesn’t matter whether you have wooden, plastic or glass chopping boards so long as they are kept really clean and in good condition. The porous nature of wood makes it advisable to use plastic or glass chopping boards for raw meat, poultry and seafood. It is easier if you have two boards – one used only for raw food and one for cooked and ready to eat food or bread – to prevent cross contamination. All chopping boards should be scrubbed with hot water and detergent and dried after preparing raw foods. Plastic chopping boards are good as they can be washed at high water temperatures in the dishwasher. All plastic and wooden cutting boards wear out over time. Once cutting boards become excessively worn or develop hard-to-clean grooves, they should be discarded.

Fridge and freezer

According to recent research, most Australians don’t know that cold food should be stored at or below 5°C. Yet doing this can considerably reduce the chances of you or your family getting food poisoning.

Watch our short video on fridge safety

Why store food in your fridge or freezer

Storing perishable foods and food ingredients in the fridge or freezer is primarily to prevent food poisoning or to slow down spoilage and loss of food quality. At 50C or colder and at freezing temperatures many bacteria that cause food poisoning and food spoilage either don’t grow or their growth may be slowed down. Remember though that there is a limit to how long food can be refrigerated as it will eventually spoil and the quality deteriorate and some food poisoning bacteria such as Listeria monocytogenes can grow and cause infection (see Advice on Listeria). Frozen food can be kept safely for longer although quality may deteriorate.

Get a fridge thermometer

To check if your fridge is operating at the correct temperature you need to purchase a thermometer and place it in the fridge. When you do this you might get some surprises. The temperature inside your fridge will vary several degrees as the fridge goes through its cycle. It will also vary markedly from one section to another.

The door is usually the warmest part and the top shelf is often the warmest shelf. We suggest you place your thermometer below the top shelf and towards the door to give a general indication of the fridge temperature.

If the thermometer shows your fridge is higher than five degrees, adjust the fridge setting to lower the temperature. The crispers for fruit and vegetables will usually be slightly warmer so that the fruit and vegetables don’t freeze. You might have to adjust the fridge a few times to get it right, but ideally, you want the main compartment to spend most of its time around 4 to 50C. Check that food looks and feels frozen to be sure your freezer is functioning correctly or use a thermometer if you have one covering this range. Partially frozen food will have a shorter shelf life.

 What foods to store in the fridge

All perishable and cooked food should be stored in the fridge. This will not only prevent the growth of food poisoning bacteria, but it will reduce spoilage. Check the labels on bottled and packaged food as they will provide storage instructions where necessary, for example “Refrigerate under 4 or under 50C”. Also look for instructions that state “refrigerate after opening” as many foods not required to be stored refrigerated in the past have been reformulated and now require refrigeration, often to prevent spoilage

If you have a lot of food in the fridge, for a party or some other function, remove the drinks, pickles and jams to make more room. These foods can be left out of the fridge for a while. Good air circulation between items in the fridge is important to keep them cold.

Where to store food in the fridge

Store ready to eat food (i.e. food that is eaten raw or will not receive any further cooking like a dessert, salad) above raw food. Store raw meats, seafood and poultry where it is coldest. In many fridges this is the bottom shelf. Wherever you store raw meats,poultry and seafood, make sure that juices and liquids can’t drip onto other foods. These juices might contain food poisoning bacteria which can contaminate other food if they drip onto it. If you have to store raw meats or poultry on higher shelves, put them in leak-proof, sealed or covered containers. Avoid raw foods touching cooked foods and keep them separated in the fridge. Cover any cooked or ready-to-eat foods stored in the fridge to reduce the risk of cross contamination.

For large quantities of food divide it up among several shallow containers so it cools faster. Cool food on the bench only until steam stops rising. Then place the hot food directly into the containers, cover with a lid and put them in the fridge.

Freeze and defrost food safely

When freezing food, avoid freezing large amounts at a time. It’s better to split it into smaller quantities in separate containers. This also means you can defrost only the quantity you need.

When freezing food you’ve just bought, place it in freezer bags to maintain quality. You don’t need to unwrap pre-packaged raw meat on trays, just put it in a freezer bag. This will help minimise cross contamination in your kitchen. Tie the bag after squeezing out as much air as possible, label and date. If you are freezing cooked food or leftovers, the most important thing is to cool it quickly. Cool food on the bench only until it stops steaming. Then place the hot food directly into the container, cover with a lid and put it in the freezer.

When thawing frozen food thaw poultry, rolled or seasoned (stuffed) meat joints and boned meat joints right through to the centre before cooking. Thaw cooked or ready-to-eat foods in the fridge or microwave – not on the bench-top. Follow thawing and cooking instructions on packaged frozen food as some food don’t require thawing before cooking

If you lose power 

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 see When the power goes off

Maintaining your fridge

There are some clues when your fridge is having trouble coping. If the motor stays on most of the time, or if your milk, cottage cheese, meat (particularly mince meat) or other perishables are going off quicker than they should, then this is a sign that your fridge is struggling and needs maintenance and/or adjustment.

Meat thermometers

How to cook meat and poultry safely

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.

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.

Shopping and storage

Strict food safety standards apply to food retailers in Australia to ensure that the food you buy is safe. But there are some signs you can look for to ensure you buy a safe product. Once you buy the food, it’s up to you to make sure that it stays safe including not leaving shopping in a hot car.

Clean

Choose a clean trolley or basket for your shopping. If you don’t think any of those available are up to standard talk to the store manager.

Never put fresh fruit and vegetables you won’t peel or cook before eating directly into the trolley. Put them in a clean bag.

Re-usable shopping bags can be a source of contamination. If you use your own shopping bags make sure you regularly wash them. Use separate, leak-proof, easily washable bags for meat/poultry/seafood and for fruit and vegetables. Insulated bags or coolers should be used to carry food such as meat and dairy products that require refrigeration.

Choose

Save money and lower your food safety risk by planning ahead and making a shopping list. If you buy perishable goods in bulk make sure you have room at home to freeze what you don’t use immediately.

Damaged food packaging can provide an entry for bacteria. For example, check cans for unusual swelling and/or leakage, broken tamper seals, rusty or severely dented cans, and damaged seams. Do not purchase the food if you see any signs of defects.

Don’t buy food that has mould growth visible unless it is supposed to be there such as on some cheeses and cured products. If in doubt ask the shop keeper for advice.

‘Use by’ dates are dates marked on foods to advise shoppers that the food must be eaten before the marked date for safety reasons. Foods marked with a use by date cannot legally be sold after the date marked. Eating foods after the use by date is at your own food safety risk.

‘Best before’ dates refer to the quality of the food. They are marked on foods which do not present food safety issues, but if these foods are eaten after the best before date they may have lost nutritional value and quality. Foods can be sold after the best before date marked provided the food is fit for human consumption.

The only food that can have a different date mark on it is bread, which can be labelled with a ‘baked on’ or ‘baked for’ date if its shelf life is less than seven days.

Foods that have a shelf life of two years or longer, for example canned food, do not need to be labelled with a ‘best before’ date. This is because it is difficult to give the consumer an accurate guide as to how long these foods will keep, as they will retain their quality for many years and are likely to be consumed well before they spoil.

Check marked down food with use by dates to be sure it is within that date. If you cannot read the date marks or if they are covered by a sticker, for example a price mark down sticker, then ask the shop keeper for the date or find a package with clearly visible markings. Remember if you freeze food that has a use by date you should use it straight away after thawing as the use by date marked will no longer be relevant.

Special needs?

Vulnerable people, such as pregnant women, the elderly, the very young and people with poor immune systems, are at risk of the illness listeriosis caused by Listeria in food and need to avoid certain foods such as soft cheeses and deli meats. Check high risk foods at www.foodsafety.asn.au. For allergy information see Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia’s website .

Chill

Shop for non-perishable food first – leave the chilled and frozen food until last.

Keep hot foods separated from frozen and chilled products while shopping and during transport home.

If a product is labelled as ‘ keep refrigerated’ or ‘keep chilled’ and is not in chilled storage, don’ t buy it and alert the store manager.

Plan to do your food shopping last and take it straight home so perishable food is allowed to warm to temperatures in the danger zone (5° to 60°C) for as little time as possible. Chilled and frozen foods are best taken home in bags or boxes with insulation added to keep food cool and an ice brick can be included especially if you travel a long distance or expect a delay. Always go home with food purchases as soon as possible and don’t leave your shopping in a hot car.

Separate

Avoid shops/markets where cooked or other ready-to-eat food (such as cooked seafood, cooked poultry or deli meats) can be seen in contact with raw products or where all these foods are served with the same utensils or are handled by the same shop assistant without changing gloves. Serious concerns should be reported to your State/Territory Health Department or local council.

Keep raw meat, poultry or seafood separate from cooked and ready to eat foods. Ask the check-out operator to pack them in a separate, leak-proof bag (they can be packed in the same bag) and encourage them to pack chilled and frozen items together by placing these items together on the conveyor belt and by providing an insulated bag or cooler.

Storage

When home, pack chilled and frozen products into your refrigerator or freezer immediately.

If you receive home food deliveries make sure you are there to receive them and you put chilled and frozen products straight into the refrigerator or freezer. Alternatively arrange for these foods to be placed in a cooler with ice bricks in a shaded place that will keep your delivered food chilled until you arrive home.

If you get home and then find some evidence of tampering or package damage that you didn’t notice when buying it or expect for online purchases, return the product to the store or call the manufacturer.

Check labels for specific storage conditions to ensure safety and quality. Don’t assume that you know how to store food as recipes change and modern food products like jams or sauces may have less salt or sugar than in the past and may need refrigeration.

Watch this short video about ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ dates

For more advice on how long food will last in your pantry fridge or freezer see:

CSIRO Storage life of foods

Food Standards Australia New Zealand Canned food

Temperature danger zone

The temperature range between 5°C and 60°C is known as Temperature Danger Zone. This is because in this zone food poisoning bacteria can grow to unsafe levels that can make you sick.

temp_danger_zone-1Keeping cold food cold

Keep your fridge below 5°C. At these temperatures most food poisoning bacteria stop growing or they grow slowly. Use a fridge thermometer to check that the temperature stays around 4 to 5°C. Also make sure you have enough fridge space as fridges won’t work properly when they are overloaded or when food is packed tightly because the cold air cannot circulate.

If you are running out of room in your fridge, remove foods that are not potentially hazardous, such as jams, pickles, vinegar-based dressings, bottled or canned drinks. The temperature of these foods is not critical for safety and they can be kept cool in insulated containers with ice or cold packs.

Freshly cooked food, not for immediate consumption, should be cooled to below the danger zone as quickly as possible. Divide food into small shallo containers and place in the fridge or freezer as soon as it stops steaming.

Keeping hot food hot

Hot food needs to be kept and served at 60°C or hotter. If you are keeping it warm for someone put it in the oven at 60°C or at 100°C if that is as low as your oven will go.

Two-hour/four-hour rule

Use the two-hour/four-hour guide below to work out what action you should take to avoid food poisoning if potentially hazardous food is held at temperatures in the danger zone.

temp_danger_zone-3

Follow these 7 simple tips to keep your food out of the Temperature Danger Zone

  1. Plan ahead. Don’t over cater as the greater the quantity of food you prepare the harder it is to keep it hot or cool enough until it is served. If you are catering for a lot of people prepare food as closely as you can to the time you will serve it.
  2. Keep your fridge at or below 5°C. Use a fridge thermometer to check that the fridge temperature stays around 4 to 5°C. Also make sure you have enough room in the fridge because if the food is packed tightly the cold air cannot circulate.
  3. Check the storage instructions. Read the label on packaged food to see if it needs to be stored in the fridge or freezer, many unrefrigerated items may need to be refrigerated once opened.
  4. Keep hot food at or over 60°C. Hot food needs to be kept and served at 60°C or hotter. If you are keeping it warm for someone put it in the oven at 60°C (or at 100°C if that is as low as your oven will go).
  5. Divide food up to cool quickly. Freshly cooked food, not for immediate consumption, should have the temperature reduced as quickly as possible. Divide the food into containers in small portions and put it into the fridge or freezer as soon as it stops steaming. You can cool food faster if you place the pot in a sink of cold water and stir it, replacing the water from time to time.
  6. Keep food on the move cool. If you are transporting perishable food around such as: refrigerated or frozen shopping, your (or your child’s) lunch or goodies for a BBQ or a picnic always use a cooler bag and add a frozen block or drink to keep things cool.
  7. If in doubt throw it out. If perishable food has been in the temperature danger zone for 2 to 4 hours consume it immediately. After 4 hours throw it out.

Images courtesy of the NSW Food Authority.

Environmental awareness

We are all becoming more environmentally aware but sometimes messages on energy and water saving contradict good food safety advice. Remember that being ill is a drain on the economy and not something we would wish on our family and friends. Some types of food poisoning can have severe or even chronic consequences.

Water

Saving water is important but so is washing your hands. Washing fruit and vegetables under running water removes loose soil and helps to remove many bacteria and viruses. If you wash fruit and vegetables that are not going to be cooked in a bowl to save water this can just create a microbiological soup that may re-contaminate the food or your hands depending on the types and amounts washed. Alternatively, you can catch running water used for washing in a bowl or bucket and then put it on the garden where it will not contact other ready to eat fruits, vegetables and herbs. Read labels of pre-cut or peeled fruits and vegetables. If they have already been washed before packaging and they are within their use by date then washing again is not necessary.

Energy

Don’t be tempted to save electricity by making your fridge warmer. It must run at 5°C or below to make sure bacteria don’t grow.

Gardening

It is great to grow your own food as it tastes good, it is fresh and it helps our children understand where food comes from. You can still get food poisoning or contamination from your own produce but this can be avoided with bit of careful planning.

Remember not to put ‘grey’ water from the house, such as the washing machine water, on to fruit, vegetables or herbs growing in the garden. Don’t store grey water as microbes will grow in it and don’t use water from the washing up or dishwasher as it has too much fat and other solids which can be bad for plant growth.

Don’t locate your garden near any rubbish piles or bins that may contain chemicals that could leak into the garden or attract vermin. I Carefully choose the garden site for hazards, for example, if you have an older building avoid using soil that could have been contaminated by scrapings of lead paint many years ago.

Make sure the compost you buy is treated and if you make it yourself ensure it is well composted; this not only kills any weed seeds but also helps kill food poisoning bacteria. Prevent easy access by vermin and pests., like mice and rats, which can spread disease. Never use any type of manure on food plants that hasn’t been thoroughly composted as it will be contaminated with bacteria some of which can make you sick.

Take precautions to protect your vegetable garden from entry of domestic and wild pests. Watch for evidence of invasions and discard damaged crops.

Minimise the use of garden chemicals and make sure you stick to the instructions for use. Use exactly the amount recommended on the label and don’t spray other areas of the garden in windy conditions in case the spray drifts onto fruit and vegetables. Some chemicals will have withholding periods before you harvest any fruit or vegetables that have been sprayed so that there are not residues in the food when consumed.

Plastic bags

Do use re-useable shopping bags but still make sure that seafood, meat or chicken is wrapped in a plastic bag or other container to contain any leaks and they are placed where they can’t drip on other foods. Any vegetables covered with soil should also be placed in separate bags. Wash your reusable bags regularly and if they get dirty. Avoid putting ready to eat fruit or vegetables directly into a shopping trolley as children may have been sitting in or standing on them.

Entertaining at home

Entertaining guests can be great fun, but the last thing we want is to give our guests a case of food poisoning. There are a few reasons why a party can mean a greater risk of food poisoning, including:

  • the average home kitchen is not designed for cooking for a lot of people
  • guests often bring food to share, which means food can be out of the fridge for several hours, enough time for bacteria to multiply
  • many people start preparing food well ahead of an event. For some non-perishable items, such as a Christmas cake, that’s fine. But other foods, such as casseroles or desserts, need to be carefully prepared and then chilled or frozen quickly.

Follow the tips below to avoid giving your friends and family food poisoning.

Avoid temperature abuse

Temperature abuse is the major cause of foodborne illness at parties and functions. Remember to minimise the time food stays in the temperature danger zone (5°C to 60°C). Learn more about the Temperature danger zone.

Keep hot food hot – use the top of the stove or an oven turned down to just below 100°C. If you want to serve food at less than 60°C, make sure it doesn’t stay at that temperature for more than four hours.

Keep cold food cold – if you prepare food ahead of time, and cool it in the fridge, make sure that the fridge is still operating at or below 5°C even though you’ve loaded it with extra food.

Cool food quickly – once the steam stops rising, cover the food and put it in the fridge. You want it to cool as quickly as possible so that spores, which can survive cooking, don’t germinate. You can hasten the cooling process by pre-cooling the hot food in its container in a sink of iced or cold water or putting it into shallow containers and chilling or freezing the food in those. In deep containers it can take days for the centre of the food to reach 5 °C.

Thaw any frozen food correctly in the fridge allowing sufficient time to thaw completely (usually the day before) or in the microwave on the day of the party. Reheat food fast either on top of the stove, in the oven or in a microwave. Remember those spores are always looking for windows of opportunity to germinate and those germinate cells will grow and make your guests sick.

The fridge

Domestic fridges are not very large and an overcrowded fridge or freezer does not allow the cold air to circulate freely around the food to keep them adequately frozen or chilled. When the fridge contains a large load of food, it has to work overtime to cope and, particularly if the weather is hot, the temperature inside will rise.

You should have a fridge thermometer inside the fridge so you can check that your fridge is operating at the correct temperature (at or under 5 °C). At these temperatures food poisoning bacteria will multiply very slowly and the food will remain safe for two or three days. Check your fridge temperature regularly, after any newly refrigerated food has had a chance to cool, and adjust the controls to lower the temperature if necessary.

Make sure that raw meat and poultry can’t contaminate ready to eat food. Raw food can contain food poisoning bacteria. This is not a problem if the food is cooked before it is eaten. However, if these bacteria get onto ready to eat food, such as salads, desserts or foods that have already been cooked, they can cause food poisoning.

You inevitably will run out of space to allow you to do this properly, particularly if your guests are also bringing food which needs to be refrigerated until you are ready to eat, so what should you do?

  • Take out the beer. Drinks can’t make you sick if they are inadequately cooled but food can. Fill the laundry sink and insulated containers or buckets with ice to keep beer and soft drinks chilled.
  • Ground coffee doesn’t need to be refrigerated just stored in an airtight jar.
  • Whole fruit can survive in the fruit bowl or cupboard, as can whole raw vegetables.
  • Those jars of pickles, chutneys and bottled sauces that have vinegar on the label can come out too because they won’t be a problem outside the fridge for a couple of days.
  • If you still don’t have enough room, make sure the things that are eaten later are in the fridge and leave out the things you will eat first.

Remember the temperature danger zone – these foods can stay out of the fridge for up to four hours in total but must be thrown out after that.

Keep these items at high risk of food poisoning bugs in the fridge:

  • cooked meats, deli meats, patés etc. should be left in the fridge until you are ready to eat them
  • salads – especially cooked vegetable, pasta or rice salads (whether they contain meat or not)
  • ready to eat seafood
  • dips and other ready to eat foods
  • cream, egg and custard based desserts
  • any dish containing raw or minimally cooked eggs, such as home made mayonnaise or sauces.

Preparing and cooking the food

Because of the risks in catering for a large group, you need to be even more careful than usual about preparing food to prevent any bacteria being introduced by cross contamination.

Wash your hands before you start preparing and between preparing raw and ready to eat foods. Wash chopping boards, knives and anything else which will come into contact with the food between preparing raw and ready to eat foods.

Cook poultry, minced meats, sausages, tenderised meats and other pre-prepared meats until they reach 75°C in the centre using a meat thermometer. No pink should be visible. Steaks and other solid pieces of meat can be cooked to your preference eg rare or medium rare – if you use a meat thermometer it will help you cook the perfect piece of meat.

Do not allow cooked meals to cool on the bench. As soon as steam stops rising, refrigerate or freeze in a leak-proof container.

Don’t prepare food if you have vomiting or diarrhoea (gastroenteritis) – you’ll be sure to pass it on to your family and friends.

Don’t leave perishable nibbles, like dips and soft cheeses, out in the temperature danger zone for too long. It is better to divide them into small amounts and replenish with fresh portions as required. This also makes them look more appetising. Don’t mix fresh top-ups with ones that have been outside for some time. Low risk foods, such nuts, crisps, crackers, etc. can be topped up every hour or so.

Bringing food or taking home leftovers

If you are transporting food to the event use insulated containers with lots of ice-bricks, gel packs or frozen water bottles to keep the food chilled. Chill the food well before taking it out of the fridge to pack. Don’t pack food with other chilled food if it has just been cooked and is still warm – transport it in another insulated container to keep it warm. Cover all ready to eat food securely. Pack any raw meat or poultry in a sealed container at the bottom of the insulated container (to avoid any juices dripping onto other food).

If you want to bring home any leftovers, ask your hosts to put your ice-bricks, gel packs or water bottles into the freezer during the party so that you can transport the leftovers home safely chilled. Put leftovers into the fridge as soon as you get home.

Christmas and holiday entertaining

Part of the fun of Christmas and the holiday season is catching up with family and friends and helping out by sharing dishes at celebratory events. But preparing food for a lot of people can be risky especially at this time of the year when several generations get together. Young children, the elderly, those with compromised immune systems and pregnant women can be severely affected by food poisoning.

There are a few reasons why a holiday party can mean a greater risk of food poisoning, including:

  • the average home kitchen is not designed for cooking for a lot of people
  • guests often bring food to share, which means food can be out of the fridge for several hours, enough time for bacteria to multiply
  • many people start preparing food well ahead of an event. For some non-perishable items, such as a Christmas cake, that’s fine. But other foods, such as casseroles or desserts, need to be carefully prepared and then chilled or frozen quickly.

Follow the tips below to avoid giving a gift your friends and family don’t want!

Plan ahead

Some simple planning can protect your family and friends, so talk to them early to work out who will prepare what food. Arrange to cook the riskier foods like meat and turkey on site where the Christmas dinner is going to be and use a meat thermometer to make sure it is cooked to 75°C in the thickest part of the meat.

Ask guests who are travelling for more than an hour to bring safer foods that don’t need refrigeration or keeping hot, such as cakes, biscuits and Christmas puddings. If they like to cook they can always come earlier and help you in your kitchen. Make sure your kitchen and utensils are clean and that everyone washes and dries their hands before handling food.

Those that live less than an hour away could bring hot food in an insulated bag but make sure it is reheated to 75°C before serving.

Those living less than an hour away could also bring refrigerated items like salads and desserts. Refrigerated items should be packed in a cooler or esky straight from the fridge and just before leaving the house. Surround the food with ice bricks, frozen gel packs or frozen drinks. If you are having a BBQ any raw meat or poultry should be packed at the bottom of the cooler in an enclosed plastic container where it can’t drip onto other foods.

Avoid temperature abuse

Temperature abuse is the major cause of foodborne illness at parties and functions. Remember to minimise the time food stays in the temperature danger zone (5°C to 60°C). Learn more about the Temperature danger zone.

Keep hot food hot – use the top of the stove or an oven turned down to just below 100°C. If you want to serve food at less than 60°C, make sure it doesn’t stay at that temperature for more than four hours.

Keep cold food cold – if you prepare food ahead of time, and cool it in the fridge, make sure that the fridge is still operating at or below 5°C even though you’ve loaded it with extra food. Learn more about Fridge and freezer food safety.

Cool food quickly – once the steam stops rising, cover the food and put it in the fridge. You want it to cool as quickly as possible so that spores, which can survive cooking, don’t germinate. You can hasten the cooling process by pre-cooling the hot food in its container in a sink of iced or cold water or putting it into shallow containers and chilling or freezing the food in those. In deep containers it can take days for the centre of the food to reach 5 °C.

Thaw any frozen meat or meals correctly in the fridge allowing sufficient time to thaw completely (usually the day before) or in the microwave on the day of the party. Reheat food fast either on top of the stove, in the oven or in a microwave. Remember those spores are always looking for windows of opportunity to germinate and those germinate cells will grow and make your guests sick.

The fridge

Domestic fridges are not very large and an overcrowded fridge or freezer does not allow the cold air to circulate freely around the food to keep them adequately frozen or chilled. When the fridge contains a large load of food, it has to work overtime to cope and, particularly if the weather is hot, the temperature inside will rise.

You should have a fridge thermometer inside the fridge so you can check that your fridge is operating at the correct temperature (at or under 5 °C). At these temperatures food poisoning bacteria will multiply very slowly and the food will remain safe for two or three days. Check your fridge temperature regularly, after any newly refrigerated food has had a chance to cool, and adjust the controls to lower the temperature if necessary.

Make sure that raw meat and poultry can’t contaminate ready to eat food. Raw food can contain food poisoning bacteria. This is not a problem if the food is cooked before it is eaten. However, if these bacteria get onto ready to eat food, such as salads, desserts or foods that have already been cooked, they can cause food poisoning. Learn more about cross contamination

You inevitably will run out of space to allow you to do this properly, particularly if your guests are also bringing food which needs to be refrigerated until you are ready to eat, so what should you do?

  • Take out the beer. Drinks can’t make you sick if they are inadequately cooled but food can. Fill the laundry sink and insulated containers or buckets with ice to keep beer and soft drinks chilled.
  • Ground coffee doesn’t need to be refrigerated just stored in an airtight jar.
  • Whole fruit can survive in the fruit bowl or cupboard, as can whole raw vegetables.
  • Those jars of pickles, chutneys and bottled sauces that have vinegar on the label can come out too because they won’t be a problem outside the fridge for a couple of days.
  • If you still don’t have enough room, make sure the things that are eaten later are in the fridge and leave out the things you will eat first.

Remember the temperature danger zone – these foods can stay out of the fridge for up to four hours in total but must be thrown out after that.

Keep these items at high risk of food poisoning bugs in the fridge:

  • cooked meats, deli meats, patés etc. should be left in the fridge until you are ready to eat them
  • salads – especially cooked vegetable, pasta or rice salads (whether they contain meat or not)
  • ready to eat seafood
  • dips and other ready to eat foods
  • cream, egg and custard based desserts
  • any dish containing raw or minimally cooked eggs, such as home made mayonnaise or sauces.

Preparing and cooking the food

Because of the risks in catering for a large group, you need to be even more careful than usual about preparing food to prevent any bacteria being introduced by cross contamination.

  • Wash your hands before you start preparing and between preparing raw and ready to eat foods – learn about Handwashing. Wash chopping boards, knives and anything else which will come into contact with the food between preparing raw and ready to eat foods.
  • Cook poultry, minced meats, sausages, tenderised meats and other pre-prepared meats until they reach 75°C in the centre using a meat thermometer. No pink should be visible. Steaks and other solid pieces of meat can be cooked to your preference eg rare or medium rare – if you use a meat thermometer it will help you cook the perfect piece of meat.
  • Do not allow cooked meals to cool on the bench. As soon as steam stops rising, refrigerate or freeze in a leak-proof container.
  • Don’t prepare food if you have vomiting or diarrhoea (gastroenteritis) – you’ll be sure to pass it on to your family and friends.
  • Don’t leave perishable nibbles, like dips and soft cheeses, out in the temperature danger zone for too long. It is better to divide them into small amounts and replenish with fresh portions as required. This also makes them look more appetising. Don’t mix fresh top-ups with ones that have been outside for some time. Low risk foods, such nuts, crisps, crackers, etc. can be topped up every hour or so.

Turkey cooking advice

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.

Raw eggs

Trying out new recipes this time of year can be great fun but food poisoning bugs can survive and even grow quickly in foods containing raw egg, like egg nog, home made mayonnaise and desserts such as tiramisu and chocolate mousse, if they aren’t handled properly. If you are tempted to make raw eggs dishes this holiday period (like egg nog, uncooked desserts such as mousses and tiramisu, hollandaise sauces, fresh mayonnaise, aioli, health shakes with added raw egg or steak tartar) you can reduce the likelihood of illness by following the simple tips:

  • Dishes containing raw eggs as an ingredient, that aren’t going to be cooked before being eaten, should not be served to those vulnerable people at greater risk from food poisoning such as small children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems.
  • Egg meals should be cooked for these vulnerable people until the yolk in a boiled egg has started to become firm or eggs have become set in omelets or scrambled eggs.
  • Check your eggs for visible cracks. If cracked it is safest to discard them or cook thoroughly, for example in a baked cake.
  • If you accidentally drop pieces of shell into your egg mixture, it too could be contaminated and the mixture will need thorough cooking.
  • Wash your hands with soap and running water and dry thoroughly before handling any food including eggs and after handling eggs or raw meat so you don’t contaminate other food.
  • If you are not going to cook the eggs further, don’t separate the yolk from the white using the shell as that could contaminate the raw egg. Invest 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 the bacteria cannot grow.
  • Keep your eggs refrigerated in the cardboard box you purchased them in.

Leftovers

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).

If you want to bring home any leftovers, ask your hosts to put your ice-bricks, gel packs or water bottles into the freezer during the party so that you can transport the leftovers home safely chilled. Put leftovers into the fridge as soon as you get home.

Storing ham

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.

Food safety on the move

Eating outdoors: BBQs and picnics

Eating outdoors is a great way to make the best of Australia’s great climate. But eating outdoors increases the risk of food poisoning for a number of reasons. For example, your food will be stored in a cooler such as an esky. This makes it much more difficult to maintain a safe food storage temperature of 5°C or below.

Follow these tips to make sure your fun day out doesn’t turn into a nightmare

Chill

  • Remember the simple rule for food safety; keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Put all perishable foods in a cooler when travelling.
  • Don’t pack food for a picnic if it has just been cooked and is still warm. Coolers cannot cool food enough to prevent bacteria growing. Always cover pre-prepared foods securely and keep in the refrigerator overnight. Other perishable foods and drinks, such as deli products, cooked chicken and dairy products must also be cold when put in the cooler.
  • Always pack plenty of frozen bricks or gel packs around the food. Frozen drinks thaw quickly in warm weather and serve as extra cool bricks. Wicker baskets, unless they are insulated, are best used for non-perishables and your other picnic needs.
  • Avoid keeping perishables such as salads, quiches and cold meats out of the fridge for longer than 4 hours before eating. If you expect to return leftovers to the fridge they should be left out for no more than 2 hours.

Watch our short video about how to stack a cooler

Separate

  • Meat juices can easily leak onto pre-prepared foods, so pack with this in mind and put the meat in leak proof containers on the bottom of the cooler away from ready-to-eat food.
  • Cut meat into serving-size pieces before leaving home and have all salads ready to eat. This reduces the need to handle foods, particularly when there are no hand-washing facilities.
  • Use a clean plate and clean utensils for cooked meat. Never re-use the same ones you used for the raw meat without washing them.

Clean

  • Carry disposable wipes or alcohol based hand gel in case there is no water for hand washing.
  • Don’t put food directly on picnic tables as they are not always clean so use clean plates or trays.

Cook

  • Remember sausages, hamburgers and poultry need to be cooked all the way through – use a meat thermometer to check they have reached 75°C in the centre. Intact steaks and whole pieces of red meat can be cooked to taste.
  • It’s all right to leave cooked meat to remain warm on a corner of the BBQ or covered on a plate for late arrivals. Just ensure it is protected from flies and, as with cold perishables, avoid leaving it around for more than four hours, (or two hours if there are leftovers to be put into the fridge).

Watch our short video about how to BBQ safely

Additional tips for BBQs at home

  • Keep your meat in the fridge until you are ready to put it on the BBQ and keep all ready to eat food covered until you are ready to eat it. This will protect it from contamination by flies.
  • Keep salads, patés, spreads, dips and other perishable products in the fridge until needed. It may seem like a great idea to leave food out so that guests can nibble throughout the whole day, but unfortunately bacteria will also have a feast. It’s better to divide these higher risk perishable foods into small amounts and replenish with fresh portions as required.
  • It is even more important than indoor events that you don’t mix fresh top-ups with ones that have been outside for some time where they may also have been enjoyed by flies. Low risk foods, such as nuts, crisps, crackers can be topped up.

Eating out: Food safety in restaurants, cafés and take-aways

Strict food hygiene rules are in place for food retailers that are enforced by state and territory and local governments. These include having properly trained staff, clean premises and equipment, keeping food at the correct temperature and correct hand washing procedures.

If you answer ‘no’ to any of the questions below it could signal that the operators are not handling foods appropriately and there may be potential food safety problems.

  • Are foods that require refrigeration adequately refrigerated and cold to the touch?
  • Are foods kept or served steaming hot?
  • If you can see food being prepared, are precautions taken to prevent cross contamination of food?
  • Are raw and cooked foods kept separate at all times during preparation and display?
  • Do staff use tongs or gloves when handling food and do you see them use separate tongs for different foods?
  • Is there a hand washing basin? Do staff wash their hands well with warm soapy water between tasks?
  • Are the areas you can see clean and tidy? Food preparation, such as cutting up meat and preparing dishes for the salad bar, may take place in areas you can’t see. Dirty staff and conditions in public areas may be a clue that things are worse behind the scenes.

All cooked food that has not been chilled, such as food in hot food cabinets (bain-maries), takeaway and home-delivered food, should be kept steaming hot. Chilled food should be displayed in correctly operating refrigerated cabinets or on ice.

Certain foods, such as minced meat, sausages, hamburger patties, rolled or stuffed roasts, and poultry must be cooked right through. There should be no pink meat and juices should run clear. If you have to send undercooked product back, always ask for fresh accompaniments such as vegetables, as juices from the undercooked products could have contaminated these. Steaks, chops and whole roasts can be cooked to your preference. Steak tartare, rare hamburgers and carpaccio may be fashionable, but they are also very high risk!

Self-service and salad bars

Self-service salad/dessert bars in restaurants can be popular but there are some food safety issues to keep in mind.

Hot food should ideally be served steaming hot, in hot food displays or over burners. However, in a buffet situation short periods of time at room temperature are acceptable. Chilled food should be kept chilled, either in refrigerated cabinets or on ice. Once again short periods at room temperature are acceptable.

Fresh food should be brought out regularly, and it should not be combined with the leftovers from the food being replaced. Each salad or dessert should have its own utensil. Use the one that is allocated to the item and don’t mix the serving utensils. Hold the utensils by the handle and, when replacing, ensure that the handle does not come into contact with the food.

Never touch or taste food on display. If you see anyone doing this, report it to a staff member. Food should be protected from coughs and sneezes by a guard – usually a clear plastic cover extending over the food.

Buying lunch

Pre-made sandwiches and rolls containing perishable ingredients, such as soft cheeses and meats, should preferably be stored under refrigeration, or otherwise at cooler room temperatures for no more than about four hours. Do not buy ‘tired-looking’ products, as they may have been at room temperature for too long.

Food in hot display cabinets should be steaming hot. Avoid purchasing food that is stacked too high in hot display cabinets. Return lukewarm pies and other filled products to the shop. Minced meats, such as hamburgers and sausages, and chickens should be cooked right through. Food from take-away outlets should be eaten within a few hours.

If you are not happy with the food safety aspects of a supermarket, restaurant or takeaway, do not return. Explain clearly to the management the reasons why you are not happy and contact your state and territory health department or local council.

Work and school lunch safety

Packing a lunch for yourself or your child is a healthy and cost effective option however food poisoning bacteria can grow quickly, especially in hot weather and in the healthier foods such as salad and cold meat we pack for lunch these days.

Choose

  • Choose low risk foods such as hard cheeses, freshly cooked meats and poultry, fresh, well-washed fruits and vegetables, canned tuna or salmon, shelf stable snacks and sandwich spreads.
  • When buying lunchboxes choose ones which are easy to clean and dry. Insulated lunchboxes are a great idea, but not if they are difficult to keep clean.

Clean

  • When preparing food, always practice scrupulous handwashing.
  • Lunchboxes and reusable drink bottles must be thoroughly washed and dried daily. If cracked, split or crazed, replace as bugs love hidey holes.
  • Ensure cutting boards, benches and utensils are clean and dry.
  • Wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly.
  • With a staff kitchen, set up a roster to ensure bench tops are clean and dish cloths, sponges, brushes and tea towels are clean and replaced regularly. Wash dirty dishes in hot soapy water or put in the dishwasher.

Cook

  • Make sure lunch foods are cooked properly in the first place.
  • When reheating, make sure they are steaming hot all the way through – stir or turn food as appropriate.

Chill

  • Lunches can safely be prepared a little ahead of time provided they are kept in the fridge or frozen.
  • When leaving home, pack a frozen juice box, water bottle or commercial ice pack with the lunch. Place perishable foods such as cheeses and sandwiches between the frozen items.
  • Lunchboxes kept inside the school bag will keep cooler longer especially if the bag is away from heat sources such as direct sunlight.
  • Divide cooked leftovers into small lunch-sized portions so they refrigerate or freeze quickly.
  • Put food in the fridge as soon as you get to work or, if working on construction sites, outdoors or other environments with limited access to refrigerators, pack food in insulated containers with frozen drinks or freezer bricks and place the container in a cool place between meal breaks.
  • Staff fridges should be uncrowded and running at or below 5°C. Provide labels and a pen so people can label and date any food they put in the fridge.

Separate

  • Make sure lunchbox foods have been well separated from other foods in the refrigerator, particularly meats, chicken and fish, the juices of which will contaminate foods which won’t be cooked before adding to the lunchbox, such as fruits.

General advice

  • If in doubt throw it out!
  • Warn children against sharing drink bottles. Sharing lunches is also not a good idea as it is difficult to know what allergies other children may have, or whether the foods have been prepared using the basic food safety tips.
  • If you or your child has food poisoning don’t go to work or school, and avoid handling food for others for 48 hours after symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhoea stop. If food poisoning symptoms persist, visit a doctor.

See also NSW Food Authority Lunch Box study

Camping and bushwalking

Food poisoning is no fun at the best of times, but it can be a major problem if you are camping or bushwalking and away from the convenience of toilets, hand basins and medical help. It is more prevalent in warm weather but can happen at any time of the year. Prevention is always better than cure and you can minimise the risk of getting food poisoning by being especially cautious about choosing the food you bring along, storing it at the correct temperature and being particular about how you handle it.

Choosing food to bring with you

The foods you choose for your camping or bush walking trip will depend on the type of food storage you have available, how much you can carry and whether safe water is available to add to foods.

Recommended foods:

  • Dry, UHT and canned products. Bush walkers usually rely on dried or freeze-dried foods which are safe and have the advantage of low weight and bulk. If you are bush walking, pack your dried foods so they won’t get wet if it rains.
  • Canned food is safe to keep at room temperature but it tends to be too heavy to carry in any quantity when bush walking.
  • Hard cheeses can be taken without refrigeration, or in an insulated cooler, but avoid taking fresh, unmatured soft cheeses unless you have access to refrigeration.
  • Fresh fruit and vegetables can be taken, but in warm weather some will deteriorate quickly so you may need some extra dried or canned varieties for later use. Most foods in cans or jars cannot be stored out of refrigeration once opened.  Make sure that you buy containers small enough so that all the food is used up in one meal.

Foods you can safely take with you

Dried foods

Canned and packaged foods

Other foods (limited shelf life)

Rice Canned vegetables & fruit Bread
Pasta Canned or packet soups Cake
Powdered milk Canned or packet meals Fresh fruit
Dried fruit and vegetables Baked and other canned beans Fresh vegetables
Nuts Spaghetti Eggs
Breakfast cereals Pasta and other sauces Butter and margarine
Biscuits/crackers Pickles and relishes Hard cheese
Freeze dried foods Canned meats and spreads
Instant noodles Canned fish
Flour Honey and jam
Fruit bars Long life milk, cream and custard
Tea, coffee and other powdered drinks Long life stocks and soups
Custard powder Long life fruit juices
Packet meals Processed cheese
Confectionary
Stock cubes, herbs and spices
Tubes of condensed milk
Jerky and other dried meats

Extra precautions:

  • Perishable foods such as raw and cooked meats, poultry, chilled ready to eat foods, dairy foods and cooked eggs are generally unsuitable for camping holidays unless you have access to a refrigerator. If you have a cooler that depends on ice or ice bricks for cooling, you should not keep such foods, for more than one day unless the cooler is able to hold the temperature of the food at or below 5 degrees Celsius.
  • If you are relying on dried food, make sure that you have access to enough safe water to rehydrate any food that will not be thoroughly cooked before consumption. Remember, water, even in remote and pristine wilderness is not necessarily safe and can be contaminated by animal faeces and naturally occurring parasites like Giardia. Unless you are sure that the water is safe, you should boil all water for at least one minute (a little longer if you are at high altitudes), or disinfect it in some way before drinking it or using it in powdered drinks or other uncooked foods.
  • Avoid creating leftovers: discard them unless you can store them at or below 5 °C until they are eaten.
  • If you are going bush walking overnight, you can take a frozen pre-prepared meal (eg stew or casserole) or frozen raw meat for cooking, provided that you eat it on the first night. Package the raw meat well so that the juices do not contaminate the rest of your food and bury the package deep in your backpack for extra insulation. Cook or reheat well.
  • Always defrost any frozen food in a cooler or refrigerator when camping.

Using coolers and eskies

  • Insulation properties and ease of cleaning are the two most important factors in choosing a cooler.
  • Don’t pack food if it has just been cooked or is still warm. Coolers cannot cool food enough to prevent bacteria growing.
  • Meat and chicken juices can easily leak onto other food in a cooler – make sure you package any raw meat and chicken in leak proof containers and place them on the bottom of the cooler and away from ready to eat food.
  • To keep foods cool use freezer bricks, frozen gel packs or containers with frozen water (a brine solution of 5 parts water to one part of salt freezes at a lower temperature than water). Many campgrounds have fridges in camp kitchens where you can refreeze bricks and gel packs.  Do not use loose ice unless foods are stored in water proof containers. This will prevent ice contaminating foods in the cooler as well as wetting the food. Periodically you should pour out the water formed and replace it with fresh ice.
  • Pack as much as you can in the frozen state – e.g. milk, juices etc. These will help keep the other foods cool but remember, unless you have refrigeration they will need to be eaten as they thaw out.
  • Organise your food in the cooler to limit the times the cooler is opened. Consider using separate coolers for food and drinks if the cooler will constantly be opened for drinks.
  • If possible, fill any excess space in your cooler with frozen drinking water.  The fuller the cooler, the longer it will hold its temperature.
  • When you have chosen your camping site, get your cooler out of the car into the shade as soon as possible. Keep it out of the sun. Take a hint from our ancestors and cover the cooler with a wet-bag to promote evaporative cooling.

Car fridges and electric coolers

Portable fridges and electric coolers are also now available and may be useful if you are travelling by car. A ‘Choice’ magazine study of portable fridges found that, in some models, setting the temperature and maintaining it was difficult when the environment temperature changed. Food could, therefore, freeze or become too warm.

  • Electric coolers are not refrigerators and have a limited cooling capability (usually about 30 degrees C below the environment temperature). Therefore, they can only be used for short periods of storage in hot weather.
  • It’s a good idea to have a fridge thermometer in your cooler or portable fridge to check on the temperature.
  • Make sure the power supply is constant. When camping, you might need to find an alternate power supply so your car battery isn’t drained.

Cooking and reheating

  • Always cook chicken, stuffed meats, sausages, liver and minced meat such as hamburger so that the juices run clear – there should be no hint of pink in the centre. Steaks, chops and whole pieces of meat can be cooked to preference.
  • Use a clean plate and clean utensils for cooked meat. Never re-use the same ones you used for the raw meat without washing them.
  • When reheating food, make sure that you heat it to steaming hot.

Drinking water and water for rehydrating food to be eaten without further cooking

Boil water vigorously for at least one minute (a little longer if you are at high altitudes). Boiling water is the most efficient method of disinfection, chemical methods may not kill some parasitic organisms (giardia amoeba, and cryptosporidium).

You can also use:

Chlorine and iodine water disinfection tablets purchased from pharmacies, camping and sports stores. Use in accordance with the manufacturers’ directions.

Tincture of iodine can be used by adding 5 drops of 2% Tincture of Iodine to 1 litre of clear water. If the water is cloudy, add 10 drops. Let the solution stand for 30minutes before drinking. If you know that parasites may be present in the area, allow the water to sit for 15 hours before drinking eg over night. If iodine-disinfected water is the only water available, it should only be used for a few weeks.

Portable water filters using reverse osmosis can be used but may be too large or expensive to take camping or hiking. Follow manufacturers’ instructions on appropriate use.

Camp Hygiene

  • Keep utensils used for preparing raw foods well away from ready-to-eat foods. Wash them thoroughly in between use and remember to wash your hands prior to handling food.
  • Always wash hands and dry them thoroughly after going to the toilet as it is just as important when you are camping as it is when you are at home. Use disposable wipes if necessary. Don’t forget to take this rubbish back out with you when you leave.
  • Cover food and store food off the ground to protect it from insects, animals and dust.
  • Keep your campsite clean. Birds and animals can be a source of food poisoning bacteria so don’t leave food, dirty utensils, food scraps and rubbish lying about to attract them. Food scraps and rubbish should be kept in a bin or bag that can be sealed. Keep utensils, cutlery and cooking equipment clean to help prevent birds and animal from being interested in your campsite.
  • You need to dispose of rubbish and waste water carefully because they can attract pests and contaminate food and water.  All rubbish should be but in bags and kept away from food. Tip wash-up and other waste water in any designated site or at least well away from water sources such as lakes and rivers.

List of Useful Food Safety Supplies for Car Camping and Backpacking

Food Safety Equipment

Purpose

Cooler, Car fridge, Electric cooler, Esky, cooler bag To keep perishable foods at a safe temperature
Fridge Thermometer To check temperature of cooler, car fridge, electric cooler or esky if you are unsure if it is working properly
Food Storage Containers To pack and store food safely preventing leakage and pests from accessing food
Disposable plates and utensils If items can’t be washed in between uses
Disposable wipes or antibacterial hand gels For use if water is not available for hand washing
Soap, dish washing detergent, paper towels For washing and drying hands and food preparing equipment
Chlorine or iodine water disinfection tablets, tincture of iodine, or portable water filter To disinfect water for drinking or for use in food preparation
Adequate rubbish bin/bags that can be sealed To store food scraps and rubbish., preventing birds and animals from scavenging around camp site

When choosing your site

In remote locations –  In caravan parks and camping grounds –
Select a latrine site carefully, at least  50m from campsites and any water source. Bury waste a minimum of 300mm below the ground surface Use the camper’s kitchen sink for cleaning food  utensils and cutlery. Use hot water and bring a supply of detergent and a universal plug
Use disposable wipes or antibacterial hand gels or lotions to wash your hands if water is unavailable Bring your own supply of soap, detergent, laundry powder and paper towels
Carry all rubbish until it can be disposed of at an appropriate location Place all rubbish and waste food in bins

Caravans and campers

Campervan and caravan food safety

If you are off on a campervan or caravan holiday you don’t want illness to spoil your fun think about how you are going to prepare food on the road. Follow the simple but effective hints suggested here and food poisoning won’t be an unwelcome hitchhiker on your road trip.

When you’re on the road in a motor-home, caravan or campervan, remember these important tips:

Clean

Our health is in our hands! Clean hands will decrease the possibility of food poisoning and other diseases markedly. Remember the 20/20 rule: wash hands for 20 seconds with warm soapy water dry hands for 20 seconds before starting to cook repeat frequently especially after handling raw meats, or vegetables with visible soil. Wash utensils and cutting boards with soap and warm water, and dry thoroughly, before handling different sorts of foods.This is particularly important when dealing with raw meats and vegetables.

Chill

Food that is meant to be kept chilled should be! As soon as possible after purchase meat, poultry, dairy foods, vegetables, salad ingredients, etc should be refrigerated at or below 5ºC. Sounds easy but often food is left in hot cars or put in refrigerators that are not cold enough. A fridge thermometer should be used to make sure the temperature is at or below 5ºC. The temperature should be adjusted in line with changing seasons and the amount stored. Refrigerate leftovers promptly. Cooked food should be stored in covered containers and either put in the fridge to cool, or frozen immediately. Frozen foods should be defrosted in the fridge NOT on the kitchen bench. If in doubt, throw it out!

Cook

Properly cooking food minimises the risk of food poisoning. Cook chicken, minced or boned meats, hamburger, stuffed meats and sausages right through until they reach 75°C. Serve hot food steaming hot above 60ºC. Defrost frozen poultry and rolled and stuffed meats thoroughly before cooking. Always follow cooking instructions on packaged foods.

Separate

Cross contamination is a major way for food borne diseases to spread. To avoid cross contamination keep raw and cooked foods separate when storing and preparing. Food should be stored in covered containers in the fridge and put raw meats and poultry in the bottom of the fridge so the juices don’t contaminate food on lower shelves. Don’t put cooked meat back on the plate the raw meat was on.

Your Travelling Kitchen

Cooking in caravans, motor-homes, or campervans is not always easy. The bench space is usually limited, there is probably less equipment, fridge space is small and a good supply of fresh running water is not always available.

Here are some tips to help cope with all of this:

  • If water is going to be in short supply buy extra chopping boards, knives and other food preparation equipment or by ready chopped or prepared food.
  • Take extra care to clean benchtops and utensils before, during and after food preparation.
  • Carry lots of leak-proof containers with you and use them for any raw food to prevent leaks onto other foods. Zip lock plastic bags can also do the job, provided they are properly sealed and have no holes.
  • Buy fresh – shopping from the local markets is a great way to get to know the small towns. You can also sample the fresh local produce.

Keeping food out of the temperature danger zone

The temperature danger zone where bacteria can grow quickly in food is between 5°C and 65°C. To reduce your risk of food poisoning:

  • Keep a thermometer in the fridge to allow you to monitor and adjust the temperature when needed. If the temperature inside the fridge rises above 5°C, bacteria in the food can multiply and make the food unsafe to eat.
  • Don’t overload the fridge and block air circulation which is needed to maintain the correct temperature.
  • Take the beer, jam and pickles out of the fridge if you’re short of space. They are unlikely to cause food poisoning if they stay outside the fridge.
  • Take special care when preparing cooked food for eating later and storing in the fridge. Make sure that all work surfaces and utensils used are clean. Refrigerate or freeze the food as soon as it stops steaming.
  • If perishable food or leftovers have been out of the fridge for more than 2 hours throw it out.
  • Freeze food in small containers or sealed bags containing only enough for one meal to reduce left-overs. Remember to label and date the packages.
  • Thaw food in a microwave or in the fridge – never on the benchtop. Soups and stews can be heated from frozen in a saucepan. Whatever way you thaw the food, make sure that it is heated to steaming hot above 65°C before it is eaten.
  • Minimise contamination by always storing raw meats and poultry on the lowest shelf of the fridge, below ready to eat fresh food. This will prevent contaminated juices dripping from the raw meat onto foods you will not be cooking again before eating, such as salads or desserts.

Don’t forget to take a cooking thermometer as well to make sure minced meat and poultry are cooked to above 75°C and hot food served above 60°C.

Canned and dry foods

  • If you’re travelling far from towns and supermarkets, you can supplement your fresh foods with canned and dried products which can be safely stored outside the fridge.
  • Make sure that you have access to enough safe water to rehydrate any dried food e.g. powdered milk, which will not be thoroughly cooked before you eat it (see tips on safe water below).
  • Once opened, dried food s should be kept in airtight containers. Leftover perishable food in cans should be refrigerated as soon as possible for later use or used within 2 hours.

BBQs

Cook poultry, minced meats, sausages and boned roasts right through to a temperature of 75°C using a meat thermometer. If you do not have a meat thermometer no pink should be left visible and the juices should run clear. Intact steaks and other solid pieces of meat can be cooked to taste.

Have a clean plate and clean utensils ready to receive the cooked meat – don’t use the same ones that were used for the raw meat as the uncooked juices will contaminate the cooked food.

Cooking only enough meat for one meal is the safest option. Food left out of the fridge for two hours or longer could be unsafe and should be thrown out.

Safe water supply

If you are using an unserviced site, remember, water, even in remote and pristine Australian wilderness is not necessarily safe.

  • If the water tank in your caravan or motor-home is unsealed or if the water has not been regularly changed, it may have picked up contaminants and should be treated if used for drinking or washing ready to eat food.
  • Ask about the quality of the water supplied and if it is safe for drinking. If you are unsure about the local water safety use bottled water. Modern water purifiers are transportable and very effective. Used correctly, they will reduce any organic material and organisms from water and render it about as safe as you can possibly get. You can also chemically disinfect water using iodine-based, drinking water tablets, which are added to water before drinking. The instructions for these tablets must be followed correctly and you cannot rely on these to work if the water is cloudy or contaminated with organic material such as leafy matter or soil. Only a water purifier could render such water drinkable.

Enjoy your trip and maximise the chance that your memories will not be marred by bouts of food poisoning by remembering that food safety is an essential ingredient.

Travelling overseas

Over 8.2 million Australians travel overseas each year. Your chance of getting food poisoning greatly increases when you travel overseas. Especially if you are going to countries where hygiene is not as effective as, or practised as expected, in Australia. When travelling we can also get exposed to food safety hazards such as bacteria, viruses and parasites that we may not be used to.

Here are some simple tips so that your trip, whether it is for business or pleasure, doesn’t get spoilt by food poisoning.

Handwashing

Always wash your hands with soap and running water and dry thoroughly before eating. Check out how to wash your hands. Remember that bacteria can be carried to the mouth on hands so avoid putting contaminated fingers and thumbs in your mouth. You may wish to take the extra precaution of using disposable wipes or alcohol-based gels if clean water is not available.

Drinks

You can drink:

  • Boiled water is safe. Bringing it to a rolling boil (where you can see large bubbles) will kill most organisms.
  • Bottled water from a reliable source is usually safe but do check that the seal is unbroken, as refills from the tap are not unknown. Don’t leave opened bottles without tops around as they may get contaminated.
  • Purified water. Modern water purifiers are transportable and very effective. Used correctly, they will reduce any organic material and organisms from water and render it about as safe as you can possibly get.
  • Chemically disinfected water. The simplest way to do this is to use iodine-based, drinking water tablets, which are added to water before drinking. The instructions must be followed correctly. You cannot rely on these to work if the water is cloudy or contaminated with organic material such as leafy matter or soil. Only a water purifier could render such water drinkable.
  • Cans of soft drink. But make sure your drinks are not served with ice unless you can guarantee the ice is made from safe bottled water (and no, the alcohol will not kill all the germs in the ice!)

Do not drink:

  • Any other water. Presume all other sources of water are contaminated. This includes brushing the teeth. Use bottled water for this.
  • Drinks with ice. Freezing water preserves the germs; it does not kill them.

Food

Remember: Cook it, peel it or forget it!

Do not eat:

  • Uncooked or undercooked food.
  • Salads or un-peelable fruit and vegetables.
  • Ice cream.
  • Unpasteurised dairy products (don’t assume milk and cheese is pasteurised).
  • Raw seafood.
  • Raw or undercooked eggs.
  • Food that has been left around exposed to flies.
  • Dishes requiring a lot of food handling to prepare.

To eat safer food look for:

  • Freshly cooked (fried, boiled, steamed) food.
  • Peelable fruits that you have peeled yourself eg bananas, citrus fruits.
  • Food of acceptable brands in cans or sealed packs.
  • Clean plates with clean cutlery (consider taking your own cutlery).
  • Food prepared and cooked safely by you.

For more information on travelling food safety see:

The Travel Doctor’s website

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Smarttraveller website

The WHO Guide on Safe Food for Travellers

Young people leaving home

If you’re leaving home for the first time, you’re probably looking forward to eating your favourite food and experimenting in the kitchen. Who knows you could even be a budding Jamie Oliver. But remember, each year an estimated 4.1 million Australians get food poisoning. So do you know how to lessen the risk that the food you prepare or buy ready to eat will make you sick with food poisoning?

You can help keep your food safe by following the four tips: Clean, Cook, Chill and Separate.

Clean

  • Bugs can get into food by hitching a ride on hands, working surfaces or utensils. You can stop them if you do these things, before you start to cook and after you handle raw meats.
  • Wash your hands. Just running some water over your hands isn’t enough to kill the bugs. Wash for 20 seconds with soap, rinse and then dry well.
  • Wash and dry chopping boards, utensils and work surfaces.
  • Use well cleaned chopping board, utensils and dishes for food that will not be cooked or 
heated before eating.
  • Make sure you wash your hands thoroughly after handling a pet.

Cook

  • Raw meat may have bugs on it that can cause food poisoning if they’re not killed before you eat the food.
  • Solid pieces of meat, like steak or a whole roast will only have bugs on the outside surfaces. That means that when you cook them on the outside, the bugs will be killed. Because of this, it’s safe to eat them when they’re still pink or even red in the centre. But when the meat is minced, rolled up or cut into to remove the bone or to stuff it, the bugs from the outside surface spread to the inside.
  • Always cook chicken or other poultry, minced or boned meat, hamburger, stuffed meat and sausages right through until all juices are clear to make sure all bugs are killed.
Defrost frozen poultry and rolled and stuffed meat completely before cooking or else they may not cook right through.
  • Always follow cooking instructions on packaged food.
  • Reheat leftovers to steaming hot before eating.
  • Never put cooked meat onto the same plate on which you had the raw meat without washing and drying it well. (Watch out for this mistake when barbecuing.)

Chill

  • The number of bugs on food increases quickly at temperatures between 5 and 60 degrees Celsius. To stop this, you have to keep the food above 60 degrees or below 5 degrees where possible.
  • Keep your fridge at 5°C or below.
  • Keep all cooked food, vegetables, salads, dairy and similar food in the fridge.
  • Refrigerate hot food as soon as it stops steaming – don’t let it cool to room temperature on 
the bench top.
  • Refrigerate leftovers promptly — it’s not a good idea to leave the remains of your evening 
pizza on the bench overnight and then eat the rest for breakfast.
  • If your fridge is too crowded, the cold air can’t circulate properly. If you’re having a party and 
your fridge is overloaded, do the unthinkable — take out the beer and wine. You can keep drinks cool by using Eskys or in the laundry tub packed with ice. This will not only leave more room in the fridge for the food, but will also mean the fridge gets opened less often and so stays colder.

Separate

  • Another way bugs from raw meat can spread from one food to another is by touching or dripping on to it.
  • If the raw meat touches or drips on a food which will not be cooked before being eaten (like salad), the salad will then have the bugs on it. The bugs on the meat will be killed when you cook it, but you’ll eat the salad – bugs and all.
  • Keep raw meat and poultry from touching other food.
  • Store raw meat and poultry in the bottom of the fridge or, even better, in a sealed container, so 
it can’t drip onto other food.
  • Cover all stored food.

AND
 IF YOU’RE SICK, ASK SOMEONE ELSE TO COOK OR GET A TAKE AWAY — DON’T SPREAD 
YOUR BUGS TO OTHERS.

By following these tips, you can help ensure that you, and people you cook for, are safe from food poisoning.

Preparing food for the vulnerable

Aged care facilities

Aged care facilities and food safety when taking food for residents

It’s nice to show you care by bringing in some favourite food or treats for a resident in aged care, but you don’t want to make them sick.

As we get older our immune system weakens and our stomachs also produce less acid which makes it easier for bacteria and viruses to make us ill. If elderly people do get food poisoning, they are also likely to suffer more severe symptoms or consequences for example: septicemia, neuromuscular dysfunction or even death. Older people can also take longer to recover from food poisoning.

Making safer food choices

Foods made with raw or minimally cooked egg such as home-made egg mayonnaise, hollandaise sauce, uncooked cakes and desserts and eggnog can be dangerous for the elderly and should not be provided.

Raw seafood such as oysters can be naturally contaminated with Vibrio species that are present in seawater. People with diminishing and poor immune systems can be highly susceptible and infections can result in death.

Some foods pose a higher risk than others, particularly in regard to Listeria infection which can be very dangerous to the elderly. These tend to be perishable foods that need to be refrigerated and that have been prepared well in advance and are eaten without further cooking. A list of these foods, and some safer alternatives is provided below.

Examples of food to avoid

Food type Examples
Cold meats Unpackaged and packaged sliced ready-to-eat from delicatessen counters, sandwich bars, etc
Cold cooked chicken Purchased (whole, portions, or diced) ready-to-eat
Paté Refrigerated paté or meat spreads
Salads (fruit and vegetable) Pre-prepared or pre-packaged salads e.g. from salad bars, smorgasbords, etc
Chilled seafood

Raw (e.g. oysters, salmon, mussels, sashimi or sushi)Smoked ready-to-eat seafood

Ready-to-eat peeled prawns (cooked) e.g. in prawn cocktails, sandwich fillings, and prawn salads

Cheese Soft, semi soft and surface ripened cheeses (pre-packaged and delicatessen) e.g. brie, camembert, ricotta, feta and blue
Ice cream Soft serve
Other dairy products Unpasteurised dairy products (e.g. raw goats milk, raw milk cheeses)

Safer alternatives

Food type       Safer Precautions
Cold meats Home cooked Store in fridge and use within a day of cooking
Chicken Home cooked Ensure chicken is cooked thoroughly to 75°C, use immediately – store any leftovers in fridge and use within a day of cooking
Hot take-away chicken (whole, portions) Use immediately or store any leftovers in fridge and use within a day of purchase
Salads Freshly prepared salads – home made Wash all vegetables and fruit thoroughly. Store any leftover prepared salads in fridge, use within a day of preparation
Seafood All freshly cooked seafood Use immediately – store any leftovers in fridge and use within a day of cooking
Cheese Hard cheese (e.g. cheddar, tasty) Store in fridge
Processed cheese, cheese spreads, plain cream cheese, plain cottage cheese Purchase cheeses packaged by the manufacturer.

Store in the fridge

Other dairy products Pasteurised dairy products (e.g. pasteurised milk, yoghurt, custard, dairy dessert) Store in fridge, use by ‘use by’ date
Packaged frozen ice cream  Maintain the ice cream frozen
Canned and similarly packaged foods All Store unused portions in fridge in clean, sealed containers and use within a day

 

Preparation

Take these simple food hygiene steps to reduce the risk of foodborne disease:

  • Thoroughly wash and dry your hands before preparing food, particularly before preparing ready-to-eat food.
  • Keep your refrigerator clean and operate it at or below 5°C.
  • Wash knives, cutting boards and kitchen appliances and dry thoroughly after handling raw food to prevent contamination of cooked and ready-to-eat foods.
  • Thoroughly wash and dry raw fruit and vegetables before eating or juicing.
  • Thaw ready-to-eat frozen food in the refrigerator or microwave – don’t thaw at room temperature.
  • Thoroughly cook all minced meat products, rolled roasts and poultry to 75 °C.
  • Don’t leave foods to cool on the bench or stove top. Divide into small portions and put them in the refrigerator as soon as they have stopped steaming.
  • If you are keeping food hot, keep it very hot (60°C or hotter). Keep cold food cold (5°C or colder).
  • Thoroughly reheat food until it is at least 75°C.
  • Keep refrigerated foods covered.
  • Store raw meat separately from cooked and ready-to-eat food in the refrigerator. Store it below other foods so that there is no chance it will drip onto other foods.

Transporting food

You need to ensure food is protected from contamination during transport. Perishable food should be kept at 5°C or cooler or, for hot food, at 60°C or hotter.

Between 5°C and 60°C is known as the temperature danger zone because harmful bacteria multiply to dangerous levels in perishable food when it is kept between these temperatures.

Put cold food in a cooler with ice packs when travelling to visit your relative or friend. Coolers can’t cool food, they can only keep cold food cool so always cover and chill the food first in the refrigerator (preferably overnight). Other perishable foods and drinks, such as deli products, cooked chicken and dairy products must also be cold when put in the cooler.

Hot food is difficult to keep hot and is best avoided if you are travelling long distances so chill the food overnight and reheat it at the residence. If you must take hot food on a longer journey use an insulated jug or vacuum flask that has been preheated with boiling water before being filled with the steaming hot food. If you are unsure whether the insulated container will keep the food above 60°C, try filling it with water at 90°C, seal and test the water temperature after the length of time you expect your journey to take. If it is still above 60°C then you can use it. You will need a food thermometer to do this test.

Reheating food

Aged care homes have different rules about reheating food provided by friends or relatives. Check with staff about the rules at the home beforehand. Make sure they know that you have brought in food and ask them about re-heating it. Food needs to be reheated to a minimum of 75°C for two minutes to kill most bacteria or viruses that can make people sick.

Frozen food needs to be completely thawed before reheating. If you are reheating a commercially prepared frozen food, read and follow all the manufacturer’s instructions on the food label even if it looks precooked.

If you are reheating food in a microwave, you need to be careful that the food is heated evenly. Food heated in a microwave oven does not heat uniformly and unwanted germs may survive in portions of poorly heated food. Manufacturers recommend standing times to help alleviate the problem of uneven heating. Many microwaveable meal packs have an instruction to stir the food part way through the cooking process. Items such as lasagne that can’t be stirred should be allowed standing time to allow the whole product to reach a uniform temperature. How evenly the food will heat will also depend on the thickness of portions and on the composition and moisture content of the food.

Storage

If some or all of any perishable food is not eaten immediately, tell the staff and ask them about storing the food in a refrigerator.

Some elderly people like to keep extra food in their rooms in drawers or bedside tables for eating later. While this is ok for shelf stable foods like biscuits and chocolates, it can be very risky with perishable food such as cold meats, seafood, custard or cream filled cakes, salads, cooked vegetables and meat dishes.

If you bring an unopened package of commercially prepared food make sure the elderly person is aware of any ‘best before’ or ‘use by’ date on the food package and is able to make decisions about their safe use.

Things to remember:

  • When you bring food into an aged care facility you are responsible for its safety.
  • Strictly follow these Food safety tips.
  • Carefully review the riskier foods for Listeria.
  • Residents might have special dietary requirements or restrictions — check with the staff.
  • Residents may no longer be able to make reliable decisions about food safety.
  • Check with staff about the rules for the facility and food that’s brought in.

Download our printable Aged care brochure

Infants and young children

Infants and young children under five years old are especially vulnerable to foodborne illness because their immune systems are not fully developed. Their stomachs also produce less acid making it easier for harmful germs to cause harm in their bodies.

There is detailed advice on infant and young children feeding on the National Health and Medical Research Council’s (NHMRC) website

Foods to avoid

The following foods should not be fed to young children because of their potential to cause serious foodborne illness:

  • Raw or undercooked meat (particularly minced meat), poultry, fish and shellfish
  • Raw sprouts—such as alfalfa, clover and radish
  • Uncooked fermented meats, such as salami—check the label: ‘heat treated’ or ‘cooked’ products are safe. Do not feed young children products labelled ‘not heat treated’
  • Unpasteurised milk and products made from unpasteurised milk—such as raw-milk, cheese and other dairy foods made from unpasteurised milk
  • Unpasteurised fruit juices – except if you have freshly squeezed yourself. Only buy such products from established reputable suppliers or squeeze the juice yourself. To determine if a juice is pasteurised, check the label or contact the manufacturer. All freshly squeezed juices are unpasteurised.
  • Honey do not feed honey to infants aged under 12 months because of the risk of botulism
  • Raw eggs to prevent salmonella poisoning, cook all eggs thoroughly
(i.e. until the white is completely set and yolk begins to thicken) and do not use uncooked products containing raw eggs such as home-made ice cream or mayonnaise.
  • Hard, small, round and/or sticky solid foods are not recommended because they can cause choking and aspiration.

The NHMRC also recommends that infants and toddlers are always supervised during feeding and you should avoid feeding an infant using a ‘propped’ bottle which can increase the risk of choking, dental caries and ear infections.

Good hygiene

Before you prepare food wash your hands, rinse and dry them thoroughly. Make sure the food preparation area chopping board and utensils have been washed with hot soapy water and well rinsed and dried before use. Check out how to wash your hands properly.

Also start teaching your child good hygiene as soon as possible. Teach children to wash and dry hands before touching or eating food; after touching chicken or raw meat; after using the toilet; after blowing their nose and after playing with a pet. Teach children not to pick up food from the floor and eat it.

Sterilising bottles and equipment

All equipment, including bottles or cups, used to feed the baby must be sterilised before use, particularly in the first three months. Sterilising equipment and tablets for making sterilising solution are widely available and effective, provided manufacturers’ instructions are followed carefully. Sterilising solutions can be used for 24 hours before being changed. Equipment can also be sterilised by boiling it in water for five minutes.

All pieces of breast pumps should be washed with warm water and a mild detergent. If the pump has clear plastic tubing connected to an electric motor, check the manufacturer’s guidelines for washing and sterilising the tubing. Most such tubing needs to be washed and sterilised only if breast milk has accidentally been drawn up into it. The outside of the tubing should be wiped with a clean, moist cloth then dried with a towel or allowed to air dry.

Breast milk

Breastfeeding is strongly recommended where possible as it is has benefits for both mother and baby. Here are some tips if you express breast milk:

  • milk can be expressed and placed in a sterile container with a lid
  • expressed milk can be stored in a fridge for up to 48 hours
  • frozen breast milk can be stored in a freezer for up to three months
  • each time milk is expressed it should be stored in a different cleaned container, rather than being added to already stored expressed milk
  • frozen milk should be thawed in the refrigerator or placed in its container in warm water and gradually heated until thawed. Leave the milk in the warm water only until it is thawed.
  • heat the milk gradually to warm it by placing the bottle or other container of milk in hot water. Avoid overheating the milk as this can affect the immunological properties
  • test the temperature of the milk before feeding the baby. Microwave ovens can cause variations in temperature throughout the milk. When testing the milk the temperature may feel correct, but the core may be sufficiently hot to scald the baby
  • any partially consumed milk should be discarded.

Infant formula

Always follow the instructions on the infant formula packaging. Powder formula should be prepared fresh each day. It can be stored in the fridge for a maximum of 24 hours.

Baby bottles containing formula or milk should be stored in the fridge and warmed up immediately before use by placing the bottle of milk in hot water. Heating the milk in a microwave oven can cause variations in temperature throughout the milk and burn young mouths. Test the temperature of the milk before feeding the baby. Any partially consumed milk or formula should be discarded immediately.

Solid food

Read the labels carefully on commercially prepared food and follow any preparation or storage instructions. Listen for a popping sound when opening vacuum-sealed jars as this shows that the jar’s seal was intact. This is particularly important with commercial baby foods; if the jar fails to pop when opened, do not use the food. Swollen or leaking cans or jars indicate that harmful bacteria may have grown and their contents should not be eaten.

Once opened, all commercially prepared foods should be stored in the fridge, preferably not in the can. Throw out the contents of any product if there is an unusual odour. Remove the amount of food to be fed immediately to a separate dish rather than feeding directly from the can or jar. This way, unused food in the can or jar can be covered and refrigerated for later use without the risk of contamination. Throw out any unused food in the dish and use a fresh clean spoon for every feed.

When transporting food for feeding your baby outside the home, keep any opened can or jar chilled by using ice packs. If using chilled or frozen commercial infant foods, only purchase such foods from established, reputable suppliers. If home delivered, make sure you are home to receive the delivery, ensure it is chilled or frozen, and place in the refrigerator or freezer immediately. If you’ve bought chilled or frozen baby food at the supermarket, refrigerate/freeze as soon as you arrive home. Allowing the temperature of such foods to rise into the temperature danger zone for extended periods can allow harmful bacteria to grow.

All normal rules for safe food handling are especially vital when cooking for a young child so keep hot food steaming hot, keep cold food refrigerated, cook food properly, separate raw and ready to eat food, keep kitchen and utensils clean and wash hands with soap, rinse and dry thoroughly. Make sure you follow these Food safety tips to clean, cook, chill and separate.

If preparing food in bulk, cool it quickly by refrigerating. Don’t keep it in the fridge for more than about three days. When you make pureed vegetables or soup for your baby, you can make enough for several meals. Use a covered ice-cube tray to freeze small quantities which you can defrost one cube at a time for a single serving.

As with commercially produced baby food, keep home prepared food chilled by using an ice pack when transporting for feeding outside the home. Ensure any container, spoon etc is washed thoroughly with hot soapy water, rinsed well and thoroughly dried between one use and the next.

Fill food container with just enough food for one serving. Harmful germs from a baby’s mouth can be introduced into food or bottle where it can grow and multiply even after refrigerating and reheating. Throw away any leftovers. Do not feed any later meals from the same container or spoon.

If you have gastro

If you have gastroenteritis, you don’t want to pass it on to the baby so, if possible, don’t prepare any solid food or formula yourself. Ask someone else to help or use commercially produced solid food in can or jar. Ask someone else to do the actual feeding if possible. Continuing to breastfeed is fine.

Packed lunches for child care centre

Lunches can safely be made ahead of time (the previous night) provided they are then kept in the fridge. Ensure food preparation surfaces, hands and utensils are clean when preparing and packing the lunch. Wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly.

Lunches should be kept cool. Pack something cold such as a frozen juice box or ice pack with the lunch. Pack perishable foods such as cold meats, chicken or egg sandwiches between the cold items. Child care centres usually refrigerate food, especially for very young children. Ask your older pre-school children to keep their lunch box away from heat sources such as direct sunlight or room radiators. Throw out any leftovers they may bring home. Warn children against sharing drink bottles.

Listeria advice

Listeria and pregnancy, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems

What is listeria?

Listeriosis is a comparatively rare form of foodborne illness, but it can be a very serious disease in pregnant women, people with poor immune systems and the elderly who will need to avoid certain foods see this additional Listeria advice. It has also caused occasional outbreaks of mild gastroenteritis in healthy people.

The symptoms are usually described as ‘flu-like’, although vomiting and discoloured urine can occur. Miscarriage can result if a pregnant woman is infected, even if she doesn’t show the symptoms. The time from infection to symptoms can be anywhere between 8 to 90 days.

Listeria is widely found in the environment so most raw foods are likely to be contaminated. Listeria is easily killed by heat, although cooked foods can easily become re-contaminated through poor food handling after cooking.

This is one of the few pathogens that can grow in the refrigerator, so ready to eat food should never be stored in the fridge too long. Although it can grow in the fridge, it will do so only very slowly so make sure your refrigerator is keeping your food at or less than 5 °C. Never eat packaged food after its use by date.

Listeria are bacteria that can cause the serious illness, listeriosis, in some people. Eating foods contaminated with Listeria is the most common way of contracting the illness.

Watch this short video about listeria

Who is most at risk?

People at higher risk of listeriosis include pregnant women, their unborn and newborn babies, the elderly and other people whose immune systems have been weakened by illness or drugs (for example: cancer patients, organ transplant recipients, and people on drugs like cortisone).

What are the symptoms of listeriosis?

In healthy adults and children, listeriosis causes few or no symptoms and may be mistaken for a mild viral infection or flu. Symptoms may include headache, fever, tiredness and aches and pains. Less common symptoms include diarrhoea, nausea and abdominal cramps.

For people with weakened immune systems, symptoms can progress to more serious forms of illness including septicaemia (blood infection), meningitis (infection and inflammation of membranes surrounding the brain) and even death.

It can take weeks after infection for symptoms to appear so sufferers may not be aware they have listeriosis and may not seek medical advice. Symptoms in pregnant women may appear mild, but listeriosis can cause miscarriage, premature birth, or stillbirth. It is important that pregnant women who have symptoms of listeriosis seek medical attention immediately.

How to avoid Listeria?

If you (or someone in your household) has a weakened immune system, or is pregnant, the best way to avoid Listeria is to eat freshly cooked or freshly prepared food.

Try to avoid foods which have a higher risk of Listeria contamination such as:

  • cold meats from delicatessen counters and sandwich bars, and packaged, sliced ready-to-eat meats
  • cold cooked ready- to-eat chicken (whole, portions, or diced)
  • pre-prepared or pre-packaged fruit or vegetable salads, including those from buffets and salad bars
  • chilled seafood such as raw oysters, sashimi and sushi, smoked ready-to-eat seafood and cooked ready-to-eat prawns
  • soft, semi-soft and surface-ripened cheeses such as brie, camembert, ricotta, blue and feta
  • refrigerated paté or meat spreads
  • soft serve ice cream
  • unpasteurised dairy products.

You can further reduce your risk of listeriosis by following these food safety tips:

  • avoid foods that are past their ‘best before’ or ‘use by’ date
  • refrigerate leftovers promptly and use within 24 hours, or freeze
  • cook foods thoroughly
  • reheat foods until it is steaming hot
  •  check this advice from Food Standards Australia New Zealand on making safer food choices.

For more information about listeriosis see Healthdirect

Toxoplasmosis advice

Toxoplasmosis advice for pregnant women and those with a weakened immune system

Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a parasite known as Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii). This single-celled organism is commonly found throughout the world and tends to infect birds and mammals. The parasite forms egg-like structures called oocysts. These must be ingested by mouth, which means the infection cannot be transferred from person to person.

Humans become infected with the toxoplasmosis parasite through contact with infected animal faeces (poo). Cats are the main hosts. They acquire T. gondii from eating infected rodents or birds and then may pass the infection to their human handlers.

Another way of catching this infection is touching or eating raw or undercooked lamb, pork or kangaroo meat. The parasites can be stored in small pockets (cysts) in the muscle tissue of these meats. Drinking contaminated unpasteurised milk can also cause infection with toxoplasmosis parasites.

Check out this advice from the Better Health Channel

How to handle riskier foods

Eggs

Eggs are a simple, cost effective and nutritious part of our diet but can be a source of food poisoning if not handled or cooked properly.

This is particularly true for dishes containing uncooked or minimally cooked eggs such as like egg nog, uncooked desserts such as mousses and tiramisu, hollandaise sauces, fresh mayonnaise, aioli, health shakes with added raw egg or steak tartar.

Research

 OzFoodNet has shown that consumption of foods containing raw or minimally cooked eggs is currently the single largest cause of foodborne Salmonella outbreaks. 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.

Also, according to a national Newspoll survey, conducted for the Food Safety Information Council, nearly 20% of Australians are taking risks by not handling uncooked foods containing raw egg correctly. Almost 1 in 5 surveyed did not know that homemade whole egg mayonnaise should be refrigerated straight away: with 9% incorrectly saying refrigerate after a few hours, 2% incorrectly saying it could be left out of the refrigerator overnight and 7% not knowing what to do at all.

Safety tips

Follow these tips to minimize your risk of food poisoning from eggs:

  • Dishes containing raw eggs as an ingredient, that aren’t going to be cooked before being eaten, should not be served to those vulnerable people at greater risk from food poisoning such as small children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems.
  • Egg meals should be cooked for these vulnerable people until the yolk in a boiled egg has started to become firm or eggs have become set in omelets or scrambled eggs.
  • Check your eggs for visible cracks. If cracked it is safest to discard them or cook thoroughly, for example in a baked cake.
  • If you accidentally drop pieces of shell into your egg mixture, it too could be contaminated and the mixture will need thorough cooking. Remove the shell pieces with a clean spoon or fork.
  • Wash your hands with soap and running water and dry thoroughly before handling any food including eggs and after handling eggs so you don’t contaminate other food.
  • If you are not going to cook the eggs further, don’t separate the yolk from the white using the shell as that could contaminate the raw egg. Invest 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 the bacteria cannot grow.
  • Keep your eggs refrigerated in the cardboard box you purchased them in.

If you have your own hens, gather eggs from their nesting places daily. Carefully check any eggs for cracks and wipe off any visible dirt with a dry cloth or paper towel but don’t wash the eggs. Then wash your hands with soap and water and dry thoroughly. If your children and grandchildren have been helping to collect eggs get them to wash their hands too.

See Food Standards Australia New Zealand’s egg risk assessment.

Fruit and vegetables

One of the reasons that food poisoning may be increasing in western countries is that we no longer eat the traditional meat and three cooked vegetables but are consuming healthier food such as salads and fruit. Raw vegetables and fruit are great for our health but they can be contaminated from the soil they are grown in or by people handling them before you have bought them.

Storage

You don’t have to store whole fruit and vegetables in the fridge, in fact fruit and tomatoes ripen and taste better if left out of the fridge. Store potatoes in a cool dark place where they won’t start to sprout as this generates toxins. Brush off any visible soil from vegetables and wash under running water and dry any fruit or vegetables just before you use them. If you wash them and then store them they may begin to grow moulds. If you’ve handled visibly dirty vegetables, like potatoes with soil on them, make sure you wash your hands, knife and chopping board before you handle other foods.

Once whole vegetables and fruit are cut up they should be covered and stored in the fridge where they can’t be contaminated by other food especially raw meat and chicken. They should be discarded after two to three days.

Freezing

If you have excess vegetables you can freeze them by cutting up and blanching them by dipping them into boiling water to kill any bacteria. Freeze in small batches and use within the time period recommended for fruit and vegetables on your freezer door or lid. You may also want to cook batches of fruit and vegetables and then divide into smaller portions and freeze.

Home bottling or canning

Be vigilant if you bottle excess fruit and vegetables because of the risk of botulism. Commercial canneries follow strict time and temperature heating schedules that are capable of killing the spores. In home bottling such regimes are not possible. If you are bottling at home, stick to the high acid fruits such as pears, apples and stone fruit. If you bottle tomatoes, mango, paw paw, banana or any other tropical fruit you must add some citric acid. Vegetables can only be safely bottled if bottled in vinegar.

If you want to produce your own vegetables in oil or flavoured oils you can keep them refrigerated for up to 10 days. If you want to bottle them, you need to acidify the vegetables and any fresh herbs first.

Recall of berries due to Hepatitis A

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

Pasta and rice

Most people are surprised that cooked pasta and rice is a food poisoning risk. In fact if you are entertaining and your fridge is full it is often the cooked rice or pasta that is left out.

Dried rice and pasta will last a considerable time so follow the best before date on the packaging.

Once it is cooked and begins to cool then toxins formed by Bacillus cereus 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. The bacteria can grow and produce toxin at refrigeration temperatures, it does so much more slowly than at room temperature.

Precooked food should not be stored in the refrigerator for more than two to three days.

Poultry

Chicken is a healthy, convenient meal and is Australia’s most popular meat with over 8 out of every 10 cooks choosing chicken. Other poultry is also becoming popular with just under half of those surveyed cooking whole turkey and 37% whole duck.

Remember that poultry includes not only chickens, turkey and duck but also quail, squab (pigeons), geese, pheasants, and guinea fowl. Chicken can also be sold as capons and spatchcock.

You should always take particular care when handling and cooking raw poultry as birds are small animals and their raw meat can be contaminated all the way through by food poisoning bacteria.

How to handle poultry correctly

You can reduce the risk of cross contamination from raw poultry by following these simple tips:

  • Do not wash raw poultry before cooking as this will spread any bacteria throughout your kitchen. You can mop up any excess moisture with paper towel.
  • Always wash and dry hands and clean surfaces after contact with raw poultry.
  • Defrost poultry in the fridge or microwave in a container which prevents juices dripping on other food.
  • Make sure the raw poultry juices do not contaminate other food, especially food like desserts or salads that won’t be cooked again.
  • Always use clean plates and utensils and wash and dry thoroughly between using for raw and cooked poultry. Never place cooked food back on the same plate or cutting board that previously held raw poultry.
  • Also cook any poultry meat to 75°C using a meat thermometer in the thickest part or until the juices run clear and are no longer pink. Make sure frozen poultry is defrosted right through to the centre before cooking.

Research

A Food Safety Information Council national survey showed 60% of home cooks in Australia are putting themselves at additional risk of food poisoning by washing whole poultry before it is cooked which spreads bacteria around the kitchen. A further 16% of those surveyed incorrectly tasted chicken to see if it was cooked properly rather than use a safe and accurate meat thermometer.

6 in 10 home cooks washed whole chicken before they cooked it, with 5 in 10 washing chicken pieces with skin on and 4 in 10 washing skinless chicken pieces.

Notified cases of illness from Campylobacter and Salmonella in Australia have almost doubled over the last 20 years. OzFoodnet estimates there are approximately 220,000 cases of Campylobacter infection each year with more than 75% transmitted by food and 50,000 cases of Campylobacter infection each year can be attributed either directly or indirectly to chicken meat.

Red meat

Beef, lamb, pork, venison and kangaroo

Whole pieces of meat

Steaks, chops and other whole pieces of meat can be cooked to preference. As long as it is heated on the outside to kill bacteria it doesn’t matter if it is rare inside. This is because a whole piece of meat, such as a steak, can only be handled or be open to contamination on the surface. Any bacteria on or near the surface will be easily killed during cooking.

Pork

Pork does not need to be overcooked to be safe. It is a myth that pork is any more unsafe than the equivalent beef or lamb for cooking and when cooked as recommended there may be a faint hint of pink in the centre

Mince, hamburgers, sausages and rolled/stuffed meat

When meat is minced or a bone is removed or it is rolled or the muscle is slit for stuffing, bacteria can penetrate into the centre of the meat. Use a meat thermometer to make sure you always cook minced or boned meat, hamburger, stuffed meat and sausages until 75°C to make sure all the bacteria are killed.

Stews, sauces and gravies

Clostridium perfingens likes the sort of conditions you get in casseroles, stews, gravies, pie fillings and any other bulk cooked foods when they cool. In the warm conditions of cooling food, the spores germinate and grow. Whenever you cool food, make sure you cool it quickly by transferring it into a shallow container and refrigerating it when the steam stops rising. A large stockpot, even in a commercial fridge can take several days for the centre temperature in the pot to reach 5° C. Use or freeze leftovers within two to three days.

Defrosting and leftovers

Defrost rolled and stuffed meat completely before cooking or else they may not cook right through. Always follow cooking instructions on packaged food. Don’t forget to reheat leftovers to steaming hot before eating.

Cross contamination

Never put cooked meat onto the same plate on which you had the raw meat. Don’t let raw meat drip on or touch other foods, especially if that food won’t be cooked further such as a salad or dessert.

See more on cross contamination

Seafood

Seafood, especially shellfish, has had a bad food safety press in the past. However, Australia has a well deserved reputation for high quality and safe seafood and commercially produced seafood in Australia must adhere to strict quality controls especially water control.

Follow these tips to keep your seafood safe and fresh

  1. Only purchase your raw or precooked seafood from a registered seafood supplier and check it is visibly fresh and is displayed chilled
  2. Transport your seafood home from the retailer in a cooler with ice blocks or ice sufficient to keep it chilled
  3. At home put seafood in the fridge in a covered container and make sure your fridge is running at 5°C or below. Live shellfish should be kept on ice and consumed as soon as possible after shucking.
  4. If the seafood is going to be cooked this will kill most bacteria but there could be a risk if it is consumed raw, for example raw oysters, sushi, sashimi. You will need to be particularly careful and hygienic in preparing these raw foods and also handling precooked seafood such as prawns.
  5. Raw seafood or cold cooked prawns are not recommended for pregnant women, people with reduced immune systems or the elderly because of the risk of Listeria.
  6. Consume prawns and live shellfish as soon as possible after purchase when they are at their best and use other refrigerated seafood within 2 to 3 days.

Catching and harvesting your own seafood

Do not consume shellfish you have harvested yourself unless you know the quality of the water it is grown in. If you catch your own fish ensure you consume it or refrigerate it as soon possible. Large fish should be cut into fillets and frozen and used within the time period recommended on your freezer door or lid.

Natural toxins in fish

Escolar (Lepidocybium flavobrunneum) and oilfish (Ruvettus pretiosus) have been responsible for a number of food poisoning outbreaks involving a type of oily diarrhoea, called keriorrhoea. For example, investigation of some Australian outbreaks of oily diarrhoea suggest between 45 and 67 per cent of people may become ill after eating these fish species. There is probably a significant under-reporting of illness associated with the consumption of these fish as the symptoms can be mild and short-lived.The oily diarrhoea is caused by indigestible oil contained in these fish, which accumulates in the rectum before being expelled. Symptoms range from an oily orange or yellow discharge, to severe diarrhoea with nausea and vomiting. Other symptoms may include stomach cramps, loose bowel movements and headache. The symptoms can occur without warning, usually within 2 ½ hours of consumption, but range from 1 to 90 hours later. Unlike other forms of diarrhoea, the oily diarrhoea caused by these fish does not cause significant loss of body fluid and is not life-threatening. Symptoms may last for one or two days.

If you are pregnant, have a bowel problem or malabsorption, you are advised not to consume these fish. If you are eating these fish for the first time, consume only a small portion. If you experience gastrointestinal symptoms after eating this fish, do not consume this fish in future and seek medical advice if symptoms persist.

Fish: naturally occurring mercury. Fish is great for your health and everyone should eat two to three serves of fish a week for good health. However, some of the larger species of fish, such as shark, marlin and swordfish, have levels of naturally occurring mercury. These species can build up levels of mercury because they are predatory and eat smaller fish and they also live a long time absorbing mercury from the ocean.

The effects in babies exposed to high levels of mercury in the womb can include lower scores on tests that measure attention, learning and memory in their early years. Pregnant women, women planning pregnancy and young children shouldn’t eat shark, broadbill, marlin and swordfish more than once a fortnight, with no other fish eaten that fortnight. They also shouldn’t eat orange roughy (also sold as sea perch) and catfish, more than once a week, with no other fish eaten during that week.

The general population should eat only one serve per week of Shark (Flake) or Billfish (Swordfish / Broadbill and Marlin) and no other fish that week. Check the mercury in fish advice from Food Standards Australia New Zealand.

There are plenty of other types of fish to choose for your two to three serves a week. Check with your fish retailer about the type of fish you are buying or check the ingredient list on a package or can.

Ciguatera food poisoning is an unusual form of food poisoning most typically caused by larger and older fish that live in warm ocean waters. However smaller warm ocean water finfish may also be implicated. The poisoning is caused by people eating fish containing the ciguatera toxin. The contaminated fish have eaten smaller fish that eats the algae that shelters a tiny organism responsible for producing a toxin that causes ciguatera.

Within 24 hours symptoms emerge including numbness around the fingers, toes and mouth, a burning sensation when in contact with cold, joint pain, nausea, itchiness and for people with high sensitivity, breathing difficulties. Problems may be encountered with eating coral trout, spanish mackerel, reef cod, barracuda, emperor, groper, sturgeon, trevally and kingfish. Any warm water predatory fish over 6 kg should be treated with suspicion. Under no circumstances should the head, roe or liver be eaten, and it is wise to eat a small portion of any large fish to test for reactions 24 hours before serving. If you develop symptoms seek medical advice.

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

In severe cases, and particularly in those suffering from asthma, bronchial difficulties can occur.

Usually not of major concern, deaths overseas have focused attention on Scombroid poisoning.

Unpasteurised (raw) milk and cheese

Nearly all dairy products in Australia, such as milk, cheese and yoghurt, are pasteurised. This means they have been heat treated for a short period to kill any bacteria. Pasteurisation 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.

There are also a few unpasteurised hard or semi-hard cheeses imported into Australia including extra hard type cheeses (parmesan types), the Swiss cheeses Emmental, Gruyere and Sbrinz, and Roquefort cheese but these have to undergo strict production processes and testing. They must  be labelled that they have not been pasteurised.

Vulnerable people such as pregnant women, people with reduced immune systems, the elderly or young children should not consume raw milk or raw milk cheeses as they can get seriously ill if they get food poisoning.

If you milk your own cow or goat, always ensure that it is healthy and here is a simple method to pasteurise  milk at home:

  1. Using a double boiler, place the milk in the top and water in the bottom.
  2. Place an accurate, metal-stem thermometer and spoon in the milk during the entire pasteurization process. A metal-stem thermometer is preferred over glass because it will not break.
  3. Heat the milk, while stirring constantly, to 75°C and hold it at that temperature for no less than 15 seconds. Constant stirring is important for obtaining even distribution of the heat and to ensure that all the milk is heated to 75°C.
  4. At the end of the 15-second holding time, place the top portion of the double boiler containing the milk in a pan of cold water. Continue stirring the milk to achieve rapid cooling.
  5. When the milk temperature is below 55°C, replace the cooling water with ice water and continue to cool the milk, with occasional stirring, until the temperature is 5°C or below.
  6. Pour the cooled milk into clean containers, cover, and store in the refrigerator at 5°C or colder until used.

Natural toxins in food

Food contains natural chemicals, including carbohydrates, sugars, proteins and vitamins. But some foods contain potentially harmful natural toxins. Sometimes a toxin is present as a naturally occurring pesticide to ward off insect attack or to protect the plant from spoilage when damaged by weather, handling, UV light or microbes.

Your own sensitivity to a natural toxin, the concentration (level) of the toxin in the food, and the amount of the food consumed will determine whether you have an adverse reaction and the severity of symptoms you experience.

If you have symptoms or feel unwell contact the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 (24 hours)

The commonly eaten foods listed here may contain natural toxins and consumers are protected by maximum limits for them in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code You can also limit your exposure to natural toxins by following the simple practices outlined below.

Alcohol

The National Health and Medical Research Council’s Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol advise both men and women to drink no more than two standard drinks per day to reduce their health risks over a lifetime. Young people (up to 18 years of age) are advised not to drink alcohol at all. Women who are pregnant, planning a pregnancy or breast feeding are advised not to drink.

Cassava and bamboo shoots

Naturally occurring cyanogenic glycosides in raw or unprocessed cassava and bamboo shoots can lead to exposure to the toxin hydrogen cyanide.

Cassava is also known as yuca, tapioca (a processed product of cassava), gaplek or manioc. Bamboo shoots, a traditional ingredient of Asian cuisine, are sourced from the underground stems of the bamboo plant.

To avoid exposure to these toxins, sweet cassava should be properly prepared before eating. Peel and slice the cassava and then cook it thoroughly, either by baking, boiling or roasting. Frozen cassava, and frozen peeled cassava should also be prepared in this way.

Fresh bamboo shoots should be sliced in half lengthwise, the outer leaves peeled away and any fibrous tissue at the base trimmed off. The remaining fresh shoots should then be thinly sliced into strips and boiled in lightly salted water for eight to ten minutes.

Fish: Escolar and oil fish

Escolar (Lepidocybium flavobrunneum) and oilfish (Ruvettus pretiosus) have been responsible for a number of food poisoning outbreaks involving a type of oily diarrhoea, called keriorrhoea. For example, investigation of some Australian outbreaks of oily diarrhoea suggest between 45 and 67 per cent of people may become ill after eating these fish species. There is probably a significant under-reporting of illness associated with the consumption of these fish as the symptoms can be mild and short-lived.

The oily diarrhoea is caused by indigestible oil contained in these fish, which accumulates in the rectum before being expelled. Symptoms range from an oily orange or yellow discharge, to severe diarrhoea with nausea and vomiting. Other symptoms may include stomach cramps, loose bowel movements and headache. The symptoms can occur without warning, usually within 2 ½ hours of consumption, but range from 1 to 90 hours later. Unlike other forms of diarrhoea, the oily diarrhoea caused by these fish does not cause significant loss of body fluid and is not life-threatening. Symptoms may last for one or two days.

If you are pregnant, have a bowel problem or malabsorption, you are advised not to consume these fish. If you are eating these fish for the first time, consume only a small portion. If you experience gastrointestinal symptoms after eating this fish, do not consume this fish in future and seek medical advice if symptoms persist.

Fish: naturally occurring mercury

Fish is great for your health and everyone should eat two to three serves of fish a week for good health.

However, some of the larger species of fish, such as shark, marlin and swordfish, have levels of naturally occurring mercury. These species can build up levels of mercury because they are predatory and eat smaller fish and they also live a long time absorbing mercury from the ocean.

The effects in babies exposed to high levels of mercury in the womb can include lower scores on tests that measure attention, learning and memory in their early years.

Pregnant women, women planning pregnancy and young children shouldn’t eat shark, broadbill, marlin and swordfish more than once a fortnight, with no other fish eaten that fortnight. They also shouldn’t eat orange roughy (also sold as sea perch) and catfish, more than once a week, with no other fish eaten during that week.

The general population should eat only one serve per week of Shark (Flake) or Billfish (Swordfish / Broadbill and Marlin) and no other fish that week.

Check the mercury in fish advice from Food Standards Australia New Zealand.

There are plenty of other types of fish to choose for your two to three serves a week. Check with your fish retailer about the type of fish you are buying or check the ingredient list on a package or can.

Fish: Ciguatera food poisoning

Ciguatera is an unusual form of food poisoning most typically caused by larger and older fish that live in warm ocean waters. However smaller warm ocean water finfish may also be implicated. The poisoning is caused by people eating fish containing the ciguatera toxin. The contaminated fish have eaten smaller fish that eats the algae that shelters a tiny organism responsible for producing a toxin that causes ciguatera.

Within 24 hours symptoms emerge including numbness around the fingers, toes and mouth, a burning sensation when in contact with cold, joint pain, nausea, itchiness and for people with high sensitivity, breathing difficulties.

Problems may be encountered with eating coral trout, spanish mackerel, reef cod, barracuda, emperor, groper, sturgeon, trevally and kingfish. Any warm water predatory fish over 6 kg should be treated with suspicion.

Under no circumstances should the head, roe or liver be eaten, and it is wise to eat a small portion of any large fish to test for reactions 24 hours before serving. If you develop symptoms seek medical advice.

Fish: Scombroid (histamine) fish poisoning

Scombroid or histamine poisoning is the result of inadequate temperature control of fish. It can occur when fish that has not been chilled to 4°C or below is eaten. Usually not of major concern,  deaths overseas have focused attention on Scombroid poisoning.

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

In severe cases, and particularly in those suffering from asthma, bronchial difficulties can occur.

Fruit seeds and pits

Apple and pear seeds and the inner stony pit (kernel) of apricots and peaches contain a naturally occurring substance called amygdalin which is a cyanogenic glycoside. Amygdalin can release hydrogen cyanide in the stomach causing discomfort or illness. It can sometimes be fatal.

There are different types of apricot kernels, some of which contain high levels of the toxin that can release cyanide into the body when eaten. Food Standards Australia New Zealand has issued advice that adults don’t eat more than three apricot kernels a day and children should not eat any.

Accidental swallowing of an occasional seed or pip is not a concern. However, do not make a habit of eating the seeds from these fruits. For a young child, swallowing only a few seeds or pits may cause illness and in rare cases can be fatal.

Kumara

Kumara, a member of the sweet potato family, can produce toxins in response to injury, insect attack and other stress. The most common toxin, ipomeamarone, can make the kumara taste bitter. There have been reports of cattle deaths after they have eaten mouldy kumara. The toxin levels are usually highest near the area of damage. It is recommended that any damaged parts on kumara are removed before cooking. Do not eat it if it tastes bitter after cooking.

Wild Mushrooms

Commercially grown and sold mushrooms are safe.

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.

Its 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.

Parsnip

Parsnips commonly contain a group of natural toxins known as furocoumarins. These are probably produced as a way of protecting the plant when it has been stressed. The concentration of the toxin is usually highest in the peel or surface layer of the plant or around any damaged areas.

One of the furocoumarin toxins can cause stomach ache and may also cause a painful skin reaction when contact with the parsnip plant is combined with UV rays from sunlight.

It is important to peel the parsnip before cooking and remove any damaged parts. The levels of toxin drop when the parsnip is cooked by baking, microwaving or boiling. Discard any cooking water.

Potatoes

All potatoes contain natural toxins called glycoalkaloids. The levels are usually low but higher levels are found in potato sprouts, and the peel of potatoes that taste bitter. The toxins are produced by the plant in response to stress such as from micro-organisms and UV light, and damage such as bruising. The amount of toxin depends on the type of potato and the growing conditions.

Severe stomach ache and even death from glycoalkaloid poisoning has been reported overseas, but is very unusual. Glycoalkaloids are not destroyed by cooking, so it is important to avoid eating the sprouts and to remove any green or damaged parts before cooking. Do not eat cooked potatoes that still taste bitter. If you come across a green potato crisp, it’s probably best not to eat it. Remember to store potatoes in a dark, cool and dry place.

Kidney beans

Many types of beans contain toxins called lectins. The highest concentrations are found in kidney beans, especially red kidney beans. As few as four or five raw beans can cause severe stomach ache, vomiting and diarrhoea.

To destroy the toxins, soak the beans for at least five hours and then boil them briskly in fresh water for at least 10 minutes. Do not cook beans at a low temperature, for example in a slow cooker, as it may not destroy the toxin. Improperly cooked beans can be more toxic than raw ones. Tinned beans can be used without further cooking.

Rhubarb

Rhubarb contains naturally occurring oxalic acid. The amount depends on the age of the plant, the season, the climate and the type of soil. Highest concentrations are in the leaves and these should not be eaten.

Oxalic acid poisoning can cause muscle twitching, cramps, decreased breathing and heart action, vomiting, pain, headache, convulsions and coma.

Zucchini (courgette)

Zucchini may occasionally contain a group of natural toxins known as cucurbitacins. These toxins give zucchini a bitter taste. Bitterness in wild zucchinis has been known for a long time but is rarely found in commercially grown zucchinis.

Eating bitter zucchinis have caused people to experience vomiting, stomach cramps, diarrhoea and collapse. Do not eat zucchini that have a strong unpleasant smell or taste bitter.

Acknowledgements

This information has been prepared with assistance from ACT Health, Food Standards Australia New Zealand, New Zealand Ministry of Primary Industry and Queensland Health.

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