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safe food handling

Alternative Names
food safety, food sanitation and hygiene

Safe food handling practices limit the risk of foodborne illnesses or food poisoning. Culprits of foodborne illness include produce, cooked and raw meat, eggs, and canned foods.

What food source is the nutrient found in?
If not handled properly, many foods can become contaminated with germs and organisms that make people ill when the food is eaten. Experts estimate that 4.2 million cases of food borne illness occur in Australia each year. Many reports go unreported because symptoms can often be mistaken for other health problems, such as the "flu".

How does the nutrient affect the body?
Symptoms of foodborne illness include:
  • fatigue
  • chills
  • mild fever
  • dizziness
  • headaches
  • upset stomach
People can have diarrhoea with dehydration, severe cramps, vision problems and possibly even death in severe cases. Symptoms vary depending on the person and the type of foodborne illness. Types of foodborne illnesses include salmonella, clostridium perfringens, clostridium botulism and E. coli.

Eating foods that have been contaminated by certain germs or "pathogens" can make a person ill. This is called food poisoning or foodborne illness. Often, when people have a stomach ache or feel as though they have the "flu" they may have eaten a foodborne pathogen. These types of germs are around us all the time. Infants, children, pregnant women, those with weakened immune systems and the elderly may be more at risk because they are less able to fight the effects of the germs.

There are ways to prevent contacting foodborne illnesses at home. Here are some important tips:

  • wash your hands before and during food preparation
  • Keep hot foods hot. High temperatures reached when boiling, baking, frying, and roasting will kill most bacteria. When cooking meats, use a meat thermometer. Bring meat and fish to an internal temperature of 75 degrees Celsius at least. Hold cooked foods at above 60 degrees Celsius.
  • Don't let cooked foods sit at room temperature for longer than two hours.
  • Thoroughly reheat leftovers.
  • Keep cold foods cold. Organisms that cause foodborne illness thrive between 5-60 degrees Celsius. Keep the refrigerator temperature below 5 degrees Celsius and the freezer (below) minus 18 degrees Celsius. Thaw foods in the refrigerator rather than on the bench. The bench top is too warm and bacteria can grow there.
  • refrigerate groceries and leftovers right away.
  • Keep work surfaces and utensils clean. A major cause of food contamination comes from touching something that is contaminated, such as raw meat, dirty hands or a contaminated knife, and then touching food. To prevent cross-contamination, hands should be washed after handling raw meat. Separate cutting boards and utensils that are used for raw and cooked foods. Cutting boards, utensils and counters should be washed, sanitised and dried thoroughly after each use. Do not use a wood cutting board for raw meat. They can trap bacteria in the grooves made by a knife. Plastic or glass is safer for meats.
  • When in doubt, throw it out. When a food looks or smells funny, common sense says to throw it away. But often foods will show no sign of contamination by organisms that cause illness. Raw meats should only be stored for 3 to 5 days in the refrigerator; sausage and mince for only 2 days. Meats can be safely stored in the freezer for up to 12 months.
  • Keep the food environment clean. Wash hands often, especially after handling raw meat. Keep dish towels washed and dry. They can be a breeding ground for bacteria. Wash fresh produce before eating it. Keep counter surfaces clean with warm soapy water or a bleach solution to sanitise. Keep pets out of the kitchen and off bench tops.
  • Shop smartly. Pay attention to "use by" dates. Do not purchase out-of-date items. Do not buy canned goods that are bulging or dented and packaged goods with broken seals. Frozen goods, such as vegetables, should not be iced or clumped together - this means they have been defrosted slightly and refrozen.
Author: Clare Armstrong, MS, RD
Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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