Food poisoning impacts more than four million Australians each year and with the Christmas season fast approaching, it’s important to take food safety and food poisoning seriously.
In simple terms, food poisoning is caused because of contamination. This can be caused by food being prepared in unhygienic areas, if food is stored at incorrect temperatures, or if food is simply undercooked. Food poisoning terms many people are familiar with include staphylococcus aureus, listeria, salmonella and bacillus cereus and symptoms and side effects can vary from person to person.
Despite the myth, food poisoning is not always caused by the last thing a person ate. In fact, the NSW Food Authority states that symptoms such as gastro intestinal cramps and vomiting can be caused by food eaten up to eight hours before symptoms start to show.
Diarrhoea on the other hand can begin between four hours to three days after eating affected food.
Whether it’s a mild form of food poisoning or something more serious, there are things people can do to prevent getting sick.
In order to prevent food poisoning in hot food, food should be kept at 60ºC or above until served. For meats such as mince or sausages, there should be no pink left after cooking.
Equally, if food is being reheated from a freezer or a refrigerator, ensure it is heated through and steaming before being served. For those with Christmas leftovers, such as turkey or chicken, place it in the fridge as soon as it has stopped steaming. Putting food in smaller, shallow containers can make the cooling period faster, while any leftovers should be cooled from 60ºC to 21ºC within two hours and from 21ºC to 5ºC within a further four hours.
Additionally, the Queensland Government says leftovers should be eaten within 24 hours and reheated above 74ºC for at least two minutes. It is always important to cook or reheat packaged food by following instructions on the packet.
Cold foods need to be stored at 5ºC or cooler, so it’s important to get these foods in the fridge as soon as possible, especially in the warm weather. If it’s going to be some time between getting from the store to the fridge, an insulated bag or ice can help keep the temperature down.
If cold foods such as Christmas ham have been left out of the fridge for more than two hours, the New South Wales Food authority recommends discarding it. And, for people thawing out frozen foods, which is quite common just before Christmas, it’s always best to do it either in the fridge or in the microwave, rather than on the kitchen bench. Food should never be re-frozen if it has been thawed.
Similar to hot foods, it’s always important to read the package for specific instructions, while checking the temperature of the fridge regularly is important to ensure food isn’t being kept too warm.
It may seem obvious, but preparing food in a clean and hygienic area is key to avoiding food poisoning. Hands should always be washed and dried before preparing any food – even if it is a light snack.
All kitchen equipment, benches and tableware should be cleaned and dried before preparing food and it’s essential that areas are re-cleaned if there are any spillages.
For the best results, using hot, clean and soapy water is important, while letting dishes air-dry is advised when cleaning up. If using a tea towel, ensure it is dry and clean.
It’s also important to prepare raw foods in a separate area from cooked foods. This could mean having a specific cutting board, knife and kitchen utensils for cooked food and another set for raw foods.
‘Use by’ and ‘best before’ dates can confuse many people, particularly because there are lots of bargains to be found at supermarkets around Christmas time. In simple terms, food shouldn’t be eaten after a use by date, however, food can typically be consumed shortly after its ‘best before’ date.
If eating food after a best before date, people may notice it isn’t as fresh, it may taste slightly different and it could have a different texture. If in doubt, throw it out.