This month, the World Health Organisation’s World Health Day is asking ‘how much do you know about your food?’ They estimate that over 200 diseases are caused by unsafe food containing harmful bacteria, parasites, viruses, chemical substances. While we’re lucky in Australia that we don’t have a serious problem with long term disease caused by contaminated foods, we do have an estimated 5.4 million cases of food poisoning each year. And not only is food poisoning seriously unpleasant and inconvenient, but it can also be life-threatening in certain at-risk populations such as the elderly, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems.
The Food Safety Information Council of Australia has four top tips for reducing the likelihood of food poisoning drastically:
1. Clean – they suggest the 20/20 rule: washing hands for 20 seconds with warm soapy water and drying hands for 20 seconds before starting to cook, and repeating especially after handling raw meats, or vegetables with visible soil. Don’t forget to wash utensils and cutting boards with soap and warm water, and dry thoroughly, before handling different sorts of foods. It’s recommended to use different chopping boards for raw meats, raw vegetables and other foods to avoid cross-contamination.
2. Chill – chilling foods as soon as possible means they’ll spend less time in the ‘danger zone’ where bacteria multiply quickest. Keep your fridge below 5 degrees C and get chilled foods into the fridge as soon as possible after purchasing. When cooling foods, it’s important to cool them as quickly as possible and get them into the fridge (as soon as steam has stopped rising from the food). Frozen foods should always be defrosted in the fridge not on the bench.
3. Cook - Take extra care when cooking chicken, minced or boned meats, hamburger, stuffed meats and sausages and never serve with any pink meat. Cook right through until they reach 75°C (use a meat thermometer to test). Always defrost frozen poultry and rolled and stuffed meats thoroughly before cooking.
4. Separate - Cross contamination is one of the main ways that food borne disease spread. Always keep raw and cooked foods separate when storing and preparing. Keep food 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. Wash plates, boards and utensils thoroughly once they’ve been used for raw meats.
Certain foods are more likely to cause food poisoning than others so pay extra attention when preparing the following foods; poultry, eggs, red meat, seafood, rice, fruit and vegetables, unpasteurised milk and cheese.
Ask yourself whenever you’re cooking or preparing foods – are you doing everything you can to ensure it’s safe for you and for the people you’re feeding?
Written by Ruth Tongue