Christmas is fast approaching, and Christmas celebrations for many families include lots of communal meals and festive eating. Unfortunately New Zealand has one of the highest rates of food poisoning in the developed world with approximately 120 000 cases of foodborne illness each year, including 19,000 general practitioner visits, 400 hospital admissions, 22 cases of long term illness and two deaths. The focus of this post is food safety and how to protect yourself from food borne illness.
Protecting yourself against food borne illness
Buying safe food
- Try to only buy and use food that is fresh, or within its ‘use-by’ or ‘best before’ date. Remember that once a package is opened it should be treated like fresh or perishable food.
- Only buy food whose packaging is in good condition; avoid buying food with damaged packages – leaking cartons, swollen or dented cans, ripped packets, loose vacuum packs.
- Check that chilled food is cool to touch and that frozen food is frozen solid.
Transporting food safely
- Make sure raw meat and poultry is packed in separate bags away from other foods – this stops their juices dripping onto other foods and contaminating them with pathogens.
- Take food home as soon as possible after purchase – don’t leave food in a hot car.
- On a hot day, or if you have a journey of more than 30 minutes, transport perishable food such as meat, dairy products or seafood in a chilly bin.
- Put chilled and frozen foods into the fridge or freezer as soon as you get home.
Sometimes food is cooked in one place and then taken somewhere else to be eaten. This is a time when food can become contaminated, or germs can grow in dangerous numbers if the temperature is right for them.
- Make sure cooked food is cooled down quickly before transporting it. Cover the food and put it into a chilly bin, or cooler bag with ice packs.
- For food that will be served hot: cool it and transport it as noted above, and then reheat it until it’s steaming hot at the place where it will be eaten. Storing Food SafelyTo keep food fresh and safe store it in the following ways:In the fridge:
- Store perishable chilled foods in a fridge that is operating at a temperature between 0 and 4°C
- Cover food to prevent pathogens being transferred from raw food to cooked or ready-to-eat foods (eg bread, salads, seafood, and cold meats).
- Cover raw meat and poultry, and store them in the bottom of the fridge so their juices can’t drip onto other foods and contaminate them.
- Store eggs in a cool dry place.
- Take vegetables and fruit out of plastic bags. Storage in plastic bags make fruit and vegetables spoil faster
- When you’re catering for large numbers of people, if there isn’t enough room in the fridge for all the food, store food in chilly bins with ice packs.In the Freezer:
- Ensure the freezer temperature is between -15°C and -18°C, or is cold enough so that the frozen food is frozen solid.
- Only freeze fresh, good quality food – freezing will not kill some pathogens in food.
- Put leftover food into small containers so it freezes quickly.
- Don’t put hot food in the fridge or freezer. Let hot food cool down naturally, and than refrigerate or freeze it.
In the Pantry:
- Store shelf-stable food products (eg cans, bags of flour etc) off the floor.
- Keep food covered or in airtight containers and away from chemicals and pests (insects, mice, rats etc).
- Keep the area clean – food scraps attract pests.
- Use the oldest food first.
- Wash and dry hands thoroughly before starting to prepare or eat any food, this includes food that isn’t going to be cooked such as salads, ham and seafood.
- Keep benches, kitchen equipment and tableware clean and dry
- Don’t let raw meat juices drip onto other foods
- Cook meat, poultry and eggs thoroughly
- In a perfect world, separate raw and cooked food and use different cutting boards and knives for both
- If you are sick with Diarrhoea or vomiting avoid preparing food for other people
- Put cooked meet on a clean platter, rather than back on one that held the raw meat
- Wash produce
- Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables in running tap water to remove visible dirt and grime
- Where food is prepared outdoors, cover it as soon as possible to protect it from insects, birds and animals.
- Before and after it is prepared, cover the food and store chilled food in the fridge.
- Minimise the length of time that food sits at room temperature – NEVER allow food to sit at room temperature for longer than a total of two hours. The warmer the temperature, the shorter the time food will remain safe.
Serve Food Safely
- Served cooked food hot, as soon as possible
- Keep chilled, ready-to-eat foods covered in the fridge until it’s time to serve them. This applied particularly to seafood, meat and vegetable salads, rice salads, desserts and cakes containing cream or imitation cream.
Wishing you all a very Happy Christmas and a Wonderful New Year,