Keeping food safe

In Australia, we generally have a reliable, safe and nutritious food supply.

Even so, foodborne illnesses are quite common and affect millions of Australian children each year. Food handling and preparation can be a source of contamination so follow ‘clean, chill, cook, and separate’ as the basics of healthy food handling practice.

Here are some expert tips to help make yours a healthy household:

Clean

  • Proper hand washing is one of the easiest and most important ways to prevent illness. A large percentage of food poisoning cases could be eliminated if people washed their hands more often when preparing and handling food. Always clean and sanitise work surfaces and utensils too. Wash your sponges, cloths and dish brushes in hot soapy water after each use, and replace them regularly.
  • Your fridge is another place bacteria collect, so wash and dry fresh produce before storing, and wash the interior often.

Chill

  • Getting your fresh foods into the fridge fast can help them last longer and stay safer. Take a cooler to the shops if you’re buying perishables like meat and dairy.
  • Never let leftover food cool to room temperature before refrigerating: Hot leftovers should go into the fridge once they have stopped steaming to reduce condensation, within about 30 minutes.
  • Store leftovers in shallow airtight shallow containers for rapid cooling and to prevent the spread of bacteria. The time it takes for food in a large container to cool can be long enough for bacteria to grow.
  • Ensure frozen foods are defrosted in the fridge, not on the kitchen bench. This keeps them in a safe temperature range (under 5C).

Cook

  • Undercooking meat can be dangerous as raw meat can contain harmful bacteria such as salmonella, listeria, and E.coli, which can cause food poisoning.
  • Cooking to sufficiently high temperatures destroys these microorganisms.
  • Aim for above 70 degrees Celsius for most meats. NSW Food Authority recommends reheating food at 75C.

Separate

  • Make sure raw meat and poultry don’t come into contact with other foods. Store raw meat on a plate or in a sealed container in the bottom of the fridge to prevent meat juice dripping onto other items.
  • Naturally occurring bacteria in fresh produce can also cause cross-contamination in the fridge, so it’s wise to keep fruits and veg separate, and clean their container often.
  • It can be helpful to use separate cutting boards and knives for different types of food; but if this isn’t practical, make sure your boards and utensils are thoroughly washed and dried after use.

Neal Sayers, Food Services Manager at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead

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