You've Got What?
How infectious diseases are spread and simple and practical advice for preventing the spread of infection in the home and community
Food poisoning is illness resulting from consumption of contaminated food or water. Food can be contaminated by bacteria, viruses, parasites or fungi, or by toxins produced by them. Food poisoning is one of the most common illnesses in Australia, with an estimated 4 to 7 million cases of foodborne illness each year.
Many different organisms can cause food poisoning. Most are particular types of bacteria and more than 95% of reported cases of bacterial food poisoning are caused by infection with just two species, Campylobacter and Salmonella. Dangerous bacteria can survive on many foods.
Contaminated food may not look, smell or taste any different from food that is safe.
The risk of food poisoning is significantly reduced if food is correctly handled and cooked, eaten immediately or stored properly.
Always wash your hands with soap and running water before preparing or eating food. Remember also to wash your hands after:
Pests such as flies, cockroaches and mice carry disease. Keep food safe by:
Do not allow animals into kitchens. In particular, do not feed them in the kitchen. Do not wash pet food bowls in the kitchen sink.
The inside of a car provides the ideal environment and temperature for bacteria to multiply, so food should be in the car for as short a time as possible.
Get refrigerated and frozen foods at the end of the shopping trip and keep them cold.
Keep hot foods separate from cold foods.
Check date markings on food packages, for example, use by or best before dates.
Cooked food can be allowed to cool to reasonably warm (about 45ºC) before it is put into the fridge; it is not essential to let it completely cool. Food will cool faster in smaller containers, and metal containers lose heat faster than plastic ones.
Store raw meats near the bottom of the fridge to ensure that juices do not drip onto other foods. Alternatively, put meat onto a covered tray or container within the fridge.
Keep raw foods on separate plates from ready- to-eat foods such as cooked foods and salads. Bacteria still grow in foods that have been kept refrigerated – they just take longer to grow.
Safe food handling and preparation practices include:
Thaw meat and other foods in the bottom of the fridge whenever possible. Food can be thawed in a microwave oven, at room temperature (for example, on a bench) or in water, provided the food is cooked immediately after it has thawed.
Take great care if you cook meat when it is only partially thawed. Make sure that it is cooked right through.
The surface of meat is usually the part that is contaminated with bacteria. Problems arise especially when contamination from the outside is moved to the inside, such as when meat is minced or sliced or a skewer is pushed through the meat. Then the meat must be thoroughly cooked right through. Therefore mince, sausages, hamburger patties, rolled roasts, kebabs, yiros, shaslicks and other such foods should be cooked right through. Thorough cooking means that there is no pink meat and the juices run clear when the meat is skewered, cut or pressed.
If you have access to a meat thermometer, you can use it to check the internal temperatures. In the case of hamburgers and poultry, make sure they are cooked throughout. Aim for around 75ºC in the centre of the meat item. See the Food Safety Information Council's infographic (PDF 565KB) with instructions for using a food thermometer.
Microwaves are a quick and convenient way to cook foods, but they tend to heat foods unevenly, leaving cold spots. So, when microwaving foods, always rotate and stir the food during cooking for more even cooking. Also, wait until the required standing time is over before you check that cooking is complete, because foods continue to cook even when the microwave is turned off.
When reheating foods, heat to steaming hot. This will kill any bacteria which may have grown on the food in the fridge.
(picnics, barbecues, camping, school lunches)
Warm summer weather is perfect for bacteria to grow.
Keep all food cold, unless it has just been cooked and will be eaten hot straight away. Do not pack food if it has just been cooked and will be eaten cool. Let it get cold in the fridge first.
Do the maximum amount of food preparation at home, particularly if hand washing facilities are inadequate at the place where the food will be eaten.
When camping, it is best to pack dried, canned and ultra heat treated (UHT) foods rather than fresh foods.
When packing children’s lunches, either pack a frozen ice block drink in the lunch box to keep food cold (summer and winter) or choose foods that will not ‘go off’. That is, do not pack foods that would normally be kept in the fridge, such as milk, soft cheese, meats or eggs, even in sandwiches.
Fillings for sandwiches that are fairly safe under warmer conditions are often those fillings that can sit on a shelf without needing refrigeration, such as honey, yeast extracts and peanut butter products.
In some schools where there are children with severe allergies to nuts and nut products, parents may be asked not to include nuts and nut products in their children’s school lunches.
(restaurants and take-aways)
Cold foods should be cold to the touch and should be displayed on ice or in a fridge.
Poultry, mince, sausages, hamburger patties, rolled roasts, kebabs, yiros, shasliks and other such foods should be cooked right through. If they are not, send them back.
Eat hot foods while they are still hot. Be careful about handling leftovers, including foods taken home in a ‘doggy bag’. They should be put in the refrigerator as soon as possible.
If you are not happy with the safe handling of the food at a restaurant or take-away, contact the Environmental Health Officer at your local council and discuss your concerns.