Australian Food Safety Week : Safe Food – Smart and Great Value

Media release

9 November 2009

Australian’s increasing interest in better value for money has prompted Food Safety Information Council Chairman, Dr Michael Eyles, to urge us all to put food safety the number one priority when shopping, handling and storing food. Each year it is estimated that there are 5.4 million cases of food poisoning in Australia

“Many of us are looking for cheaper foods, which means we are buying in bulk, seeking out ‘specials’ or more hesitant to thrown out foods we are not too sure about,” Dr Eyles said when launching Australian Food Safety Week 2009, today.

“Cheaper foods are only good value if they are safe,” he said. “This means we have to understand how to select foods which will meet our schedule for when we will eat them, how to handle and store foods to get a safe life from them, and to know when the risk of eating a food is high as far as food poisoning is concerned.”

“To buy in bulk safely and to get the value, you need a plan – without one you run the risk of eating food which is dangerous, or having to lose the value by having to throw food out.

“The plan should include a reasonable time frame in which the food will be eaten, and whether there is enough storage room in your refrigerator or freezer. Also, include sufficient time to repackage the food so that you can defrost an adequate amount for a meal, rather than attempting to thaw the entire purchase at once. Small food packages will defrost well in the refrigerator, while large blocks of meat or fish pose difficulties as the outside will be defrosted for a considerable time before the core of the product defrosts.

Citing best-before and use-by dates, Dr Eyles says consumers need to educate themselves on the meaning of such labelling in order to be able to buy smart.

“Often foods near their use-by date will be on special, as it is illegal to sell them after the date, and the retailer is wanting to move them quickly. These are tempting to the frugal shopper. Again you need a plan.

“Are you able to consume the food before it is past its use-by date? Is the product able to be frozen which will extend its safe life? If the answer to such questions is “No”, then resist the bargain temptation.”

Dr Eyles points out that the best-before date is slightly different as food can be sold and safely consumed after the date.

“The best-before date is nominated by the manufacturer as the date before which the food will be of best quality to consumer. After this date the food will decrease in quality, but will remain safe for a reasonable time. Decisions on best-before dates are made by the manufacturer on the basis of the type of food and the packaging. Consumers buying food near or after the best-before date need to consider these criteria as well.”

With the increasing use of slow cookers to make cheaper meat cuts tender, Dr Eyles stressed the need to keep food out of the temperature danger zone between 5°C and 60°C.

“Make sure the cooker is operating correctly and is above 60°C. As soon as the food stops steaming it should go straight into the refrigerator or freezer. Splitting large amounts into meal size containers will help the food chill swiftly.

“Underlying good value and safe food are the Food Safety Information Council’s basic food safety tips – Cook, Clean, Chill and Separate. These are still as relevant as ever, to avoid being one of the more than 5 million Australians who suffer food poisoning each year,” he concluded.

The Council’s basic food safety keys are:

  • Avoid the temperature danger zone – serve hot food steaming hot. Put leftovers into the fridge as soon as they stop steaming. Chillall food as soon as possible after cooking or buying. Make sure your fridge is clean, uncluttered and 5°C or below. Ask for ice when buying seafood.
  • Cook chicken, rabbit, sausages, minced meat dishes, hamburgers, rolled and stuffed meats right through, until the juices run clear.
  • Separate foods that are raw such as chicken, meat and dirty vegetables from foods that are ready to eat such as salads, cooked meats etc. Make sure raw chicken and meat are stored below other foods in the fridge to avoid cross contamination.
  • Keep cooking utensils and all surfaces your food will touch scrupulously clean to avoid contamination with food poisoning bacteria and viruses.
  • Clean your hands. Hands should be washed with soap under warm, running water for 20 seconds and dried for 20 seconds.