Important consumer messages about correct cooking and storage methods for red meat are included in a comprehensive set of reminders for consumers issued today, the first day of National Food Safety Week.
The Australian Food Safety Information Council says that based on Australian Bureau of Statistics’ data, the number of vulnerable Australians at most risk from food poisoning is increasing.
FSIC chairman, Dr Michael Eyles, said while food poisoning was an ‘unpleasant’ experience for most of the population, for unborn babies, young children, people mid-60s or older and those with poor immunity because of illness or medical treatment, the outcome could be life-threatening.
“The theme of Australian Food Safety Week this year is vulnerable populations, because these groups are growing rapidly,” Dr Eyles said in a statement.
“This increases the likelihood that either we may be in the vulnerable group ourselves or we may be preparing food for someone who is. In either case we must be extra-cautious with our choice of foods and how we handle them to avoid food poisoning,” he said.
According to ABS data, in the past 20 years the number of Australians over 63 years old increased by 13.6pc, and those over 85 years old increased by 170pc to 398,200. In just the 12 months to 30 June 2010, the number of children aged 0-4 years increased by 38,500.
Dr Eyles says those Australians were particularly vulnerable to food poisoning for several valid scientific reasons:
- No matter how fit and healthy, those older than mid-60s had less resistance to food poisoning bacteria.
- People suffering an illness or undergoing medical treatment such as chemotherapy, were likely to have compromised immune systems putting them at particular risk from food poisoning.
- Young children did not have fully-developed immune systems until around eight years of age.
- Pregnant women had reduced immune systems and their unborn babies were at particular risk of Listeria infection.
“Following the Council’s basic food safety tips is always a good idea for everyone, but for those in the vulnerable populations it may be a matter of life or death,” Dr Eyles said.
The risk of food safety incidents is elevated during higher summer temperatures.
Specific food safety tips for vulnerable groups:
CHOOSE: Those with weakened immune systems, pregnant women and their unborn babies and older people are at risk from Listeria infection, which only causes a mild illness in the general population but can be fatal for the vulnerable. The best way to avoid infection is to avoid the foods Listeria bacteria can grow in: soft cheeses, paté, cold-sliced cooked meats, chilled ready-to-eat seafood like cooked prawns, soft-serve ice cream, store-bought vegetable and fruit salads. Don’t use cracked or dirty eggs, or any food after its use-by date.
CLEAN: Wash hands in running water with soap for 20 seconds and then dry on a clean towel, before handling food, after handling higher-risk food such as meat or poultry and after using the toilet or changing babies’ nappies. Ensure food preparation area and utensils are absolutely clean. Wash chopping boards and knives with hot, soapy water, rinse with running water, and dry thoroughly to avoid cross-contamination, particularly when preparing raw meat or poultry and then salad vegetables and other foods which won’t be cooked. Ensure everyone washes their hands properly before eating.
COOK: Make sure food, especially poultry and minced-meat or sausages, is cooked all the way through until juices run clear. Invest in a meat thermometer and check the thickest part of the meat reaches a safe temperature (70+ degrees for minced meat and sausages, and 74+ degrees for poultry). The surface of fish and whole red meats is where bacteria sits – ensure entire surface is cooked well. Eggs and egg containing dishes should be well cooked for at-risk groups.
CHILL: Make sure perishable food is refrigerated at 5 degrees Celsius or below – use a fridge thermometer.
SEPARATE: Make sure that raw meat or poultry doesn’t come in contact with foods that won’t be cooked again, such as desserts, fruits and salads. Cover food in the fridge and store raw meat and poultry at the bottom of the fridge.
- Australian Food Safety Week is the major activity of the Food Safety Information Council which aims to address the estimated 5.4 million cases of food-borne illness in Australia each year. These illnesses result in 120 deaths, 1.2m visits to doctors, 300,000 prescriptions for antibiotics and 2.1m work days lost each year. The estimated annual cost of food poisoning in Australia is $1.25 billion.