Catching up with family and friends over a barbie or picnic is what summer in Australia is all about. But it's also the time when bringing a plate can end in a serious case of food poisoning.
The NSW Food Authority says that up to 1.4 million Aussies have food poisoning every year. There is usually a spike around Christmas. The Victorian State Government has already reported an increase in listeriosis cases in the state over recent weeks, with seven cases in the past three weeks and 25 cases over the year so far.
It comes down to food handling and storage mistakes, as well as people making dishes they aren't as familiar with such as a whole turkey. And it doesn't help that it's hot and humid when we're all trying to enjoy our Christmas lunch buffet.
Here are some general tips for food safety over summer as well as a breakdown of how to prepare and store different foods over the festive season.
Top 10 food safety tips:
- Wash your hands with soap and water before handling food.
- Wash and dry all cooking utensils, plates and chopping boards thoroughly.
- Separate raw and cooked foods -- use different utensils and chopping boards for raw and ready-to-eat food.
- Get the temperature right. Keep food out of the 'danger zone' between 5 and 60 degrees Celsius.
- Wash fruit and vegetables in clean water.
- Thoroughly cook food -- if in doubt, throw it out.
- Don't prepare food for a group if you are sick.
- Check your the temperatures on your fridge and freezer.
- Abide by 'use by' dates and take note of 'best before' (using your own judgement).
- Be aware of food allergies.
The roast turkey is one of those traditions borrowed from the northern hemisphere that can cause trouble at Christmas. Here are the key steps for preparing turkey safely:
- Defrost your turkey completely in the fridge, not on the bench at room temperature. Make sure it does not touch other food in the fridge.
- Cook thoroughly until the meat turns white, about 45 minutes per kilogram of meat. Use a meat thermometer to make sure turkey reaches 75 degrees Celsius.
- Eat turkey within two hours of cooking and pack leftovers in smaller containers to be kept in the fridge.
- Eat leftovers within three days.
Ham is a staple of the Christmas Day spread but did you know that you should wash and dry your cotton ham bag every three days? A clean ham bag (or cotton pillowcase) is the best way to keep your ham fresh in the fridge. Also:
- Ensure the fridge has enough space for your ham and that cold air can circulate properly. You might need to put some drinks in an esky with ice to make room.
- Slice off what you need and leave the rest of the ham on the bone. Leftover sliced ham can be kept wrapped up in the fridge for three days.
- Pregnant women shouldn't eat cold ham off the bone.
- Reduced-salt ham will not keep as long as regular ham, so check the label carefully.
- Leftover ham bones and meat can be frozen for soup.
Safe seafood starts at the shopping phase. Go to a reputable seafood supplier armed with an esky. Plan to buy fish and seafood last during your shopping trip and ask your fishmonger if they will pack some ice with your fish (although they are not obliged to supply ice.) Put it in the fridge as soon as you get home.
As a rule of thumb, don't eat any seafood that has been out of the fridge for two hours or more. Here's some advice for specific seafood:
- Prawns: buy whole prawns with their heads still attached and shiny shells. Store them in an airtight container or covered in plastic wrap in the coldest part of the fridge. Leave shells on as long as possible.
- Oysters: should be glossy and smell of fresh seawater. Don't eat sunken or dry-looking oysters. Opened oysters should stay in the fridge below 5 degrees Celsius.
- Mussels: shells should be closed or close when tapped.
- Other fish: whole fish should have bright pink or red gills. The skin should be bright and glossy, rather than dull, and shouldn't smell overly 'fishy'.
Ah, salad. It seems harmless but if it's prepared too far in advance bacteria can flourish. Try to avoid making your salad well before it's served. Always rinse your fruit and veg in clean water and keep raw and cooked food separate.
Store in the fridge before serving -- it will be safe to eat within two hours while sitting on the bench. Remember to pack salad in a cooler bag with ice if your bringing it to a picnic.
Food poisoning hit some people harder than other, including children, older people and those with existing conditions that weaken their immune systems. Pregnant women need to be particularly vigilant and avoid these food altogether:
- salads prepared well in advance of consumption
- cold deli meats
- cold seafood
- soft cheeses
- soft-serve ice cream
- unpasteurised dairy products