Don’t give your family and friends food poisoning this Christmas

Media release: December 2007

Christmas is a high risk time for food poisoning, the Food Safety Information Council has warned.

Dr Michael Eyles, Chair of the Food Safety Information Council, launched food safety tips today that could mean your family and friends will be less likely to be one of the 5.4 million cases of food poisoning that occur in Australia each year.

“You are more likely to get food poisoning at Christmas time because the weather is hot, the fridge is overloaded and we’re cooking for more people than we usually do. It all makes for perfect conditions for food poisoning,’ Dr Eyles said.

“We are also more likely to be cooking for several generations and we need to be especially careful when preparing food for young children, pregnant women, the elderly and people whose immune system may be compromised, as food poisoning can be very serious for them.

“Following a few simple rules can make for a safe and enjoyable holiday. Before preparing food for Christmas make sure that there is enough room in the fridge to keep cold food at or less than 5oC. If there is not enough room in the fridge take out the beer – remember that soft drinks and alcohol, pickles, jams and other acidic condiments don’t need refrigeration to remain safe. Drinks can be kept cold in an esky with ice – which will also save you opening the fridge door too often and letting the cold air out.

“Always make sure you wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water and dry thoroughly before preparing foods and between handling raw meat or raw chicken. Use separate cutting boards and utensils for raw meats and ready to eat foods

“Avoid keeping food in the temperature danger zone between 5oC and 60oC where food poisoning bacteria grow best. Prepare foods as close as possible to eating time and don’t leave food out to nibble on too long, for example put out small serves of dips and replace every few hours.

“The turkey is a challenge as it is not something we cook very often. You can defrost the turkey in the fridge, or ask your butcher to defrost it in the cool room – but make sure it is completely defrosted in the centre before cooking. It’s OK to defrost a turkey on the bench top, but you must make sure it is thoroughly cooked all the way through to make sure any bacteria are killed – use a meat thermometer to check that the temperature in the thickest part reaches 75 degrees Celsius and juices from the thickest part of the turkey must run clear not pink. Because stuffing slows down cooking and cooling, it is best cooked separately.

“Seafood is a great option for Christmas – make sure you ask your fishmonger to pack your purchase with ice, transport it home in a cooler and then promptly place in the coldest part of your fridge. Don’t leave seafood in the temperature danger zone for longer than necessary.

“Cook foods properly. All rolled and stuffed roasts, poultry, sausages, mince dishes need to be fully cooked. Steaks, chops and solid pieces of meat can be eaten rare.

“If you cook large amounts of food in advance, divide it into smaller portions in shallow containers so it cools quicker, cover and place in fridge or freezer. Make sure there is good air circulation around the containers.

“We always seem to have leftovers at Christmas time so remember to refrigerate leftovers immediately after the meal. Never leave leftovers on the kitchen bench and use refrigerated leftovers within 2 to 3 days. Reheat food all the way through to at least 75 °C  so it is steaming hot.

“And finally, your Christmas ham will keep several weeks with proper handling by removing it from its plastic wrap, covering with clean cloth soaked in water and vinegar so it doesn’t dry out. Follow any instructions on the packaging and store it in the fridge at or below 5 °C. Reduced salt hams are now becoming popular but will not last as long as conventional hams so follow instructions on the packaging” Dr Eyles concluded.

There is a wide range of material including tips for picnics and barbecues, which can be viewed on the Food Safety Information Council website.

The Food Safety Information Council is a partnership of government agencies, industry and professional groups with the objective of educating consumers about safe food handling practices.

Contact: Juliana Madden, Food Safety Information Council Executive Officer: 0407 626 688