’Tis the season for food poisoning

The hot weather, preparing meals for large family gatherings, a crowd of people in the kitchen, cooking and eating outdoors, and an overcrowded fridge can all lead to slip-ups with food safety. Here are some tips that can help protect your family or friends coming down with food poisoning. 

Wash your hands

The number one rule of food preparation is hand hygiene. Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before and after handling food – and make sure any willing helpers do as well! If you are wearing food preparation gloves, change them frequently. Read more here.

Store food safely

The Aussie Christmas menu of seafood, soft cheese and cold meats can become breeding grounds for bacteria such as E. coli, Listeria and Salmonella (common bacterial causes of gastro) if not stored correctly. When doing your Christmas grocery shopping, take chiller bags to help transport food home safely, and refrigerate as soon as possible. Ready-to-eat foods can become contaminated by raw foods. Store raw foods such as meat, veggies and seafood separate from other foods. Use separate chopping boards for raw food and wash boards and knives after use. Keep raw meat on a tray on the bottom shelf of the fridge so it doesn’t drip onto other foods.

Prepare food correctly

Remember that raw or unwashed food such as meat, poultry, eggs or vegetables can be contaminated with bacteria. Wash all fruit, vegetables and salads before serving. Thoroughly cook chicken, turkey, pork, sausages, burgers and kebabs so that they are steaming hot, with no pink bits. 

Look after your eggs

Treat eggs with the same care as meat. Ensure eggs are clean and uncracked, store in the refrigerator and use before the ‘best by’ date. Cook eggs thoroughly and serve hot dishes containing eggs straight away, or refrigerate until serving. Vulnerable groups such as the elderly and very young should avoid food containing uncooked eggs, such as mayonnaise or béarnaise sauce, smoothies made with raw egg, or desserts like tiramisu.

Beware the lowly tea towel

Tea towels can be a treasure trove of bacteria if not changed frequently. The tea towel is often the go-to towel in the kitchen, used for drying hands, wiping surfaces and drying utensils, boards and crockery, so it is easy to see how they can spread germs. Don’t use your tea towels to dry your hands – instead use a hand towel or paper towel. And throw your tea towels in the wash every day. 

Left over but not left out

Left overs on Christmas day can have a tough time. They’ve been put out on the table early, scooped, spooned and picked over, and left to linger at room temperature while lunch wends its way through the afternoon. This is the ideal environment for bacteria to thrive, multiplying to dangerous levels in just a few hours.  

Food safety guidelines recommend food (such as salad, meat, seafood, cut fruit, cheese, egg) should not be left at room temperature for more than two hours. With cold platters, try to keep chilled or refrigerated until serving time. Be vigilant about putting food away as soon as possible after the meal, sealed in clean, airtight containers. Food that is left out for more than four hours should be thrown away.

No room in the fridge?

To make sure the fridge can store all the food you need it to, and isn’t being continually open and shut over the course of your festivities, employ an esky (or fill the laundry sink with ice) to keep the drinks cold. When someone asks how they can help, give them the job of bringing a bag of ice from the service station!

Give flies the flick

Along with summer come the dreaded flies, and you don’t want them landing all over your Christmas roast or platter of dips. Houseflies carry bacteria and disease and can quickly spread germs if they land on food. Keep food covered before and after serving, particularly if you are serving up buffet style. Dispose of rubbish quickly and store rubbish bins away from the house.

Check the use by date

There is one important date to remember this Christmas – the use by date! It is there on meat, ready-prepared salads and other foods that go off quickly. Do not eat food that has passed its use by date. 

There is one important date to remember this Christmas – the use by date! It is there on meat, ready-prepared salads and other foods that go off quickly. Do not eat food that has passed its use by date. The use by date is there for your safety.

Defrost in the fridge

If you need to defrost your turkey or something you prepared earlier, defrost it either by leaving it in the fridge or by using the microwave. Do not leave it out to defrost – the surface will thaw first and sit at room temperature for long periods. A frozen turkey can take up to 3 days to thaw out in the fridge. Place the turkey in a tray to catch any drips and dispose of liquid carefully, and ensure it has completely thawed before cooking.

Handling the ham

Everybody loves a delicious leg of ham at Christmas, and the cured nature of the meat means it will keep well for a week or more if stored correctly. The ham should be kept in the fridge, wrapped in a cotton pillowcase or calico ham bag soaked in a weak vinegar solution. The bag should be changed and washed every three days. Don’t leave the ham out for long periods, and be sure hands, boards and utensils are clean before getting out the ham. 

Follow these simple tips, and you should sail through the festive season without a problem. But if you or a loved one should fall ill, and you need to see a doctor over the break, when GP Practices are closed, call or click 13SICK for a bulk billed*, after hours home doctor visit.
* if eligible for Medicare rebates