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Stay food safe over Christmas

12 December 2019

Christmas, hot weather and upset tummies don’t have to go together if Cape York, Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula Area residents follow a few simple food safety tips this festive season.

Part of the fun of Christmas and the holiday season was catching up with family and friends and helping out by sharing dishes at celebratory events, Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service Senior Dietitian Marissa Arnot said.

“But preparing food for a lot of people can be risky, especially at this time of the year when several generations get together, the weather is hot and the fridge is overloaded.

“All of these factors can conspire to provide perfect conditions for food poisoning bacteria to multiply in our food and result in stomach upsets, vomiting and diarrhoea.’’

Ms Arnot said each year in Australia about 32,000 people were hospitalised, 86 people died and one million people visited a doctor because of food poisoning.

“Those who are most at risk include the very young, the elderly, those with existing health problems and pregnant women,’’ she said.

‘‘There are many types of bugs that can cause food poisoning. The two most common are Campylobacter and Salmonella.

“But food poisoning can be avoided at any time of year, not just during the festive season, if all Cape York, Torres Strait and NPA residents adopt good food safety habits.

“For instance, poultry, chicken, turkey, rolled and stuffed roasts, sausages and mince dishes should be cooked fully.

“Hams will keep for several days with proper handling by removing them from plastic wraps, covering with clean cloth to stop them drying out and by following instructions on the packaging.

“And make sure your raw Christmas food is stored correctly at the bottom of your fridge so that its juices can’t drip on to ready to eat food like salads or desserts stored higher up.

“Finally, once the eating is over, the best way to ensure your leftovers are safe is to refrigerate them immediately after a meal or when food has stopped steaming.

“Then, before eating them, always ensure leftovers are heated to at least 70°C for at least two minutes and are steaming all the way through.”

Ms Arnot said some raw foods could become contaminated in many ways.

“These include from the soil, compost or irrigation water used on crops, food handlers’ unclean hands, unclean kitchen equipment and even cross-contamination from other food,’’ she said.

‘‘But cooking food thoroughly usually kills bacteria and viruses and this is why eating some raw foods puts people at a greater risk of food poisoning.

“Foods that are normally eaten raw, such as fruit and salad vegetables should be washed under running water and then dried with a paper towel just before you eat.

“By following food safety advice, you can dramatically reduce the risk of any form of food poisoning.’’

Here are 5 tips to keep family and friends food-safe during the holidays:

  • Wash hands regularly - before preparing food, between food preparation tasks, after using toilet, blowing nose and before eating
  • Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot – when serving use ice trays for cold foods or
    keep in fridge until last minute and serve hot food steaming or keep at temperature in bain marie
  • Keep cooked and raw foods separately, use different chopping boards and take care with how and where they are stored
  • Raw food like raw eggs, seafood and rare meats and poultry pose additional risks – cooking them through or taking extra care with storage, preparation and serving these food helps reduce the risks
  • Return leftovers to the fridge as soon as possible and reheat leftovers well to steaming to minimise the risk. Leftovers should be consumed within 24 hours.
  • To learn more about food safety in Queensland and how you can protect your family’s health visit

PHOTO CAPTION: Keeping your salad over ice is a good way of keeping it, and other cold foods, cold when spreading
food out over a table for a long and leisurely meal.

Last updated: 18 December 2019