When the weather starts warming up, the risk of food contamination rises, too. Stay well this summer with Caitlin Reid’s practical food safety advice.
All the outdoor eating and entertaining over summer leads to a higher risk of food being contaminated by bad bacteria. Under the right conditions, these bugs can multiply in your food, leading to food poisoning and unpleasant side effects. More than five million Australians are affected by food-borne illnesses each year. On average, this results in 120 deaths, 1.2 million visits to the doctor, 300,000 prescriptions for antibiotics and 2.1 million days of lost work.
Bacteria that cause food poisoning thrive in some types of foods more easily than others. These high-risk foods include meat, poultry, dairy products, eggs, cooked deli goods (such as salami and ham), seafood, cooked rice, cooked pasta, prepared salads, and prepared fruit salads.
The perfect breeding grounds for bacteria
There are five key principles that turn food into the ideal breeding ground for potentially harmful bacteria. These are as follows:
Bacteria eat the same things we do, so most foods contain ample nutrients to promote the growth of bacteria.
Bacteria need moisture to grow, therefore the more moisture in food the faster they grow. Without water, bacteria growth slows down and may even stop.
The danger zone is between 5°C and 60°C.
Bacteria grow faster in an alkaline environment and slow down in more acidic environments.
Given the perfect conditions, one lone bacterium can multiply into more than 2 billion bacteria within the space of just several hours.
Reduce your risk
Keep it cold
Keep any food that needs to be kept cold in your fridge at 5°C or below. Don’t eat food that has been out of the fridge for longer than two hours. All food, especially meat, should be defrosted in the fridge.
Keep it hot
Cook and reheat foods until they’re piping hot. Make sure there are clear juices before serving chicken or pork and cook all the pink out of meats such as sausages, burgers and mince.
Keep it clean
Wash hands before preparing or eating any food. Keep benches, equipment and tableware clean. Store raw and cooked meats separately and use different cutting boards and knives for each. Keep pets out of the kitchen.
Notice the label
Don’t eat food past the use-by date. If choosing takeaway food under a bain-marie, ask how long it has been sitting there for. All leftovers should be labelled with the date you prepared the food. This will reduce the likelihood of eating contaminated food. Remember the rule of thumb: 'If in doubt, throw it out.'