Food Safety – a major consideration in the heat of the Aussie summer

Guest Post Sally Marchini, Dietitian

With our Aussie temperatures being so high at this time of year, it seemed a good idea to remind you about food safety in a bit more detail. For those of us with diabetes, it’s especially important that we take care to guard against all kinds of sickness, and food poisoning is not a good one to have to deal with!

When we refer to the Australian Dietary Guidelines, it’s the last (but the not least) guideline, No. 5, that reminds us about the importance of food safety.

When you consider that, according to the Australian government Department of Health and Aging report on foodborne illness circa 2000:

“Of the 17.2 million cases of gastroenteritis in Australia each year, 5.4 million (32%) were estimated to originate from contaminated food, with a 95% credible interval of 4.0–6.9 million cases.”

This demonstrates that the more we can be aware of these issues ourselves, the safer we can be.

It may seem a slightly boring topic until you become struck down with a foodborne illness, so is definitely worth being aware of the tips provided by the Australian government to avoid it.

The Australian Dietary Guidelines tell us:

“All foods, and particularly fresh foods, need to be transported, stored and prepared properly to avoid contamination. This is particularly important when we are preparing food to eat later. Food poisoning occurs when we eat contaminated foods or drinks. Contamination can occur when foods aren’t kept at the right temperature, when raw foods aren’t separated from cooked and ready to eat foods, when food preparation tools aren’t cleaned properly or the people preparing foods are unwell and don’t follow good personal hygiene practices.

“Fresh or perishable foods are especially at risk of contamination. We can get the best from our food – retaining its freshness and nutritional value – by preparing and storing it safely.”

 

There are many places that can harbor bacteria.An example, I often hear of people leaving food on the stove to cool before they put it into the refrigerator, but if you consider that bacteria starts to grow once the food gets below 60degC, it’s really not worth the risk. Saying that, try to move perishable items away from anything hot you put into the refrigerator too so the bacteria in those foods aren’t kicked into action by the nearby added heat.

 

Do you wash your fruit and vegetables before eating or preparing them? If you’re the main food preparer in your family, do you have a backup plan in case you’re unwell yourself?

Did you know that the DANGER ZONE for Rapid growth of bacteria and production of toxins is anywhere between 4 and 60 degrees Celsius? And bacteria can still grow, but more slowly, down to as low as 0 degrees Celsius. Freezing will stop growth, but bacteria survive. Cooking thoroughly between 74 and 100 degrees will destroy most bacteria.  Our goal as consumers is to keep foods out of that danger zone!

This is why we’re advised to defrost foods in the refrigerator, rather than on the bench, and refrigerate cooked foods before they cool to below 60 degrees Celsius.

In addition to temperature danger zones, it’s worth remembering that bacteria enjoy a moist environment, hence the need to wash your fruits and vegetables before eating. Did you know that in many major hospitals you won’t find lettuce on the menu as it’s just too hard to ensure that the bacteria is removed before serving. Please ensure you wash lettuce thoroughly, and particular watch those prepared bags of mixed lettuce and ensure they’re eaten within a day or two of purchase. Other wet foods like cooked rice and bean shoots are also well known for their bacterial growth, so make sure any leftovers are chucked (or given to the chookies/composted) within a day or two of being in the refrigerator.

If, even with your best efforts in food safety you or one of your family members do become ill, you can visit the Diabetes Australia Guide to Sick Day Management here, but be sure to know when to seek medical assistance. Do you have a plan ready in case you become unwell?  If not head to your doctor and make sure you have a plan in place.

I hope you’ve learned something from this blog, and that you stay well and safe over the summer period and beyond. 🙂

 

Sally owner of her private practice (Marchini Nutrition), and has had type 1 diabetes for close to 40 years and coeliac disease for many years too.

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