Food safety a high priority during the holiday season

Media release

22 December 2009

Food safety should be a priority during the holiday season says Dr Michael Eyles, Food Safety Information Council Chairman.

“Hot weather, large crowds, overloaded fridges and foods we don’t normally cook, all make perfect conditions for food poisoning,” Dr Eyles says.

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

“There are a few easy things to do in order to minimise the obvious food safety risks.

“Clean out the fridge so there’s plenty of room to store food and ensure it’s set at 5 o or below. Plan the menu to ensure perishable food can be stored properly and to minimise leftovers. Discourage family and friends from arriving at the last minute with cream filled desserts, seafood or other items which will need fridge space. Lastly, have plenty of ice available so drinks don’t have to go in the fridge.

“Getting the drinks out of the fridge is easy and has huge benefits. There will be more room in the fridge, the fridge door will be opened less often, and the drinks container filled with ice can be strategically placed to minimise the kitchen traffic. Less people underfoot allows the cook to be less hassled and therefore more likely to follow the basic food safety tips ofcleanhands, utensils and chopping boards well and often,cookfood properly,separatefood which will be served cooked and uncooked, and chillcold food and serve hot food steaming hot.

“Keep food out of the temperature danger zone – between 5 and 60 degrees celsius – 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.”

Dr Eyles says one of the biggest challenges during this period is the turkey as it is not something we cook very often.

“Deciding whether you actually need a whole, large turkey or not is a good starting point – perhaps just a breast or other cuts is enough and will decrease the food safety risks as it will be easier to store, prepare and cook. There will also be less leftovers to worry about.

“If you do have a large turkey ask your butcher to defrost it in the cool room. If this isn’t an option, due to the size it’s OK to defrost a turkey in a cool place, but you must make sure it is thoroughly defrosted and cooked all the way through. Use a meat thermometer to check that the temperature in the thickest part reaches 75 degrees and juices from the thickest part of the turkey must run clear. Because stuffing slows down cooking and cooling, it is best cooked separately,” Dr Eyles says.

“If seafood is your choice for Christmas or New Year, ask your fishmonger to pack your purchase with ice, transport it home in a cooler and then store it in the coldest part of your fridge. Don’t leave seafood in the temperature danger zone for longer than necessary.

“Leftovers are another challenge so they are best minimised through good menu planning. If you do have perishable leftovers remember the 2-4-OUT rule:

  • 2 hours unrefrigerated is generally OK as long as the food is not sitting in the sun.
  • 2 to 4 hours unrefrigerated can be risky if not very fresh when originally taken from the fridge; if they contain dairy products, raw eggs, or other risky ingredients; if they are exposed to the sun for most of this period, or if they will be eaten later by young children, older people, or those pregnant or unwell.
  • 4 hours or more unrefrigerated – throw it OUT.
  • “Ham will keep well with proper handling. Remove it from its plastic wrap, cover with a clean cloth soaked in water and vinegar so it doesn’t dry out. 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. If a large amount of ham is leftover consider cutting off a chunk and freezing it for later use.

“The Christmas and New Year holiday period is to be enjoyed. Following just some simple food safety tips will mean you, your family and your friends will be less likely to be one of the 5.4 million cases of food poisoning that occur in Australia each year,” Dr Eyles concluded.

The Food Safety Information Council is Australia’s leading disseminator of consumer targeted food safety information. It is a non-profit entity supported by the Australian Department of Health and Ageing, state and territory health and food safety agencies, local government, and leading professional, industry and community organisations.