As Australians dish up Christmas feasts, health authorities are urging the public to follow basic food safety tips to avoid food poisoning.
Large outdoor gatherings on hot days are the perfect breeding opportunity for harmful bacteria such as salmonella and listeria in food, the NSW Food Authority warned.
More than 5.4 million Australians suffer from food poisoning each year, and experts usually see a spike in the warmer months.
“Symptoms can be quite nasty ranging from nausea, stomach cramps, diarrhoea, fever and headaches to serious vomiting and dehydration requiring hospitalisation,” said the president of the Australians Medical Association, Steve Hambleton.
“Christmas is a time for relaxing with family, not queuing in hospital emergency departments because of food poisoning.”
Hosts can avoid poisoning themselves and their guests by minimising the amount of time food stays in the temperature “danger zone” of between five and 60 degrees, Hambleton said. Hot food should be kept hot by being placed on a stove top or in an oven, and cold food kept in the fridge or eskies filled with ice.
He reminded the public to check the temperature of their fridges which could dramatically fluctuate with increased amounts of food. “Make sure it is operating below five degree.”
An earlier survey by the NSW Food Authority found some household fridges became twice as warm after more food was stacked inside, and took on average four hours to return to the ideal temperature.
The Australian Food Safety Information Council said food could easily be contaminated during transportation. The council's chairman, Dr Michael Eyles, encouraged hosts to ask guests expecting to travel for more than an hour to bring low-risk foods such as cakes, biscuits and Christmas puddings.
“If they like to cook they can always come earlier and help you in your kitchen,” he said. “Those that live less than an hour away could bring hot food in an insulated bag but make sure it is reheated to 75C before serving. They could also bring refrigerated items like salads and desserts.”
Leftover food should be immediately refrigerated and consumed with two to three days. Hot or cold food left in the temperature “danger zone” for more than four hours should be trashed.
Each year, food poisoning results in 120 deaths, 1.2 million visits to doctors, 300,000 prescriptions for antibiotics and 2.1 million days of lost labour, on average, the council said.
The NSW Food Authority's food safety guide for summer eating: can be found here.
TIPS FROM THE AUSTRALIAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION
-When preparing food, make sure that hands, clothes, equipment and kitchen surfaces are clean
-Don't use the same utensils for raw meats and cooked meats
-Refrigerate leftovers immediately after the meal and use within three days
-Cook poultry, minced meats, sausages and other prepared meats until they reach 75C (steaks and other solid meats can be cooked according to preference)
-Don't leave perishable nibbles like dips and soft cheeses out in the temperature danger zone for too long – instead, divide them into small amounts and replenish when needed.
HOW TO SAVE FRIDGE SPACE
-Take out the beer. Lukewarm drinks can't make you sick. Fill the laundry sink or insulate containers or buckets with ice to keep drinks cool.
-Store whole fruit and whole raw vegetables in the cupboard or a bowl.
-Temporarily remove jars of pickles, chutneys and bottled sauces that contain vinegar. They can survive for a couple of days without refrigeration