Was it the reheated leftovers from three – or was it four or five – days ago?
Or the sandwich you bought one day from that café you thought looked a bit dirty?
Or maybe it was the salad that spent too long out of the fridge?
Whatever the culprit, chances are you’ve been affected by food poisoning at some point in your life.
Why we need to talk about food poisoning
Food poisoning affects an estimated 4.1 million people in Australia every year. The symptoms of food poisoning can range from mild to severe, but there are steps you can take to reduce your risk.
What causes food poisoning?
Food poisoning is caused by bacteria, toxins or viruses present in the food or drinks we consume. In Australia, food poisoning is commonly due to bacteria, namely the Campylobacter or Salmonella bacteria types.
Symptoms of food poisoning may include nausea (feeling sick), vomiting, stomach pains, diarrhoea (loose watery bowel motions), feeling weak, headache, fever, chills or sweating.
When the symptoms start, how long they last and how serious they are can depend on many factors.
What are some potentially ‘high risk’ foods of food poisoning?
Many people know that chicken or fish are common sources of food poisoning, but there are other common foods that can be potentially dangerous.
Sources of food poisoning will usually look, smell and taste normal, so in this way it can be hard to detect.
Some potentially high-risk foods include:
- raw and cooked meat (including red meat, chicken, turkey and seafood) and foods containing these, such as a casserole or curry
- eggs and foods containing eggs, such as omelette or quiche
- dairy products and foods containing these, such as custard or cheesecake
- deli meats and smallgoods, such as ham or salami
- cooked rice and pasta
- prepared foods, such as coleslaw, pasta salad, rice salad, fruit salad and other ready-to-eat foods such as a sandwich/roll/leftover pizza that contain foods listed above
- opened pre-packaged foods (can, carton or plastic container/bag), especially foods not refrigerated straight after they are opened.
What is the ‘temperature danger zone’?
This is the temperature range in which harmful bacteria can grow to unsafe levels in food. The danger zone is between 5⁰C and 60⁰C.
This means it is best to keep cold foods cold – in your fridge, set below 5⁰C – and hot food should be kept and served hot – at 60°C or hotter.
Using a food thermometer is an easy way to measure food temperature. These can be bought at most supermarkets.
For freshly cooked food that you’re not going to eat straight away, the Australian Food Safety Information Council advises to cool them to below the danger zone as quickly as possible: divide food into small shallow containers and place in the fridge or freezer as soon as it stops steaming.
Tips to avoid food poisoning at home
- When cooking or preparing food, try to prevent food or food surfaces coming into contact with other parts of your body or your clothing (also, wear clean clothing when cooking)
- Cover any cuts or abrasions on your body
- When preparing food, wash your hands using warm water and soap before you start, as well as:
- after going to the toilet (ensure you remove any aprons prior to going)
- after touching other body parts and coughing, sneezing, smoking, blowing your nose, eating
- before handling ready-to-eat food (such as salad)
- after touching raw foods (such as meat)
- Use different utensils/ chopping boards for ready-to-eat foods and raw meats
- Do not prepare food if you are ill or experiencing diarrhoea and/or vomiting
- When buying food, ensure that the food packaging seal is unbroken, within its use-by date and that the can is not dented.
Food can be a celebration and bring great joy as well as healthy nutrition to your life and body. Let’s keep it that way 🙂