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Food poisoning on the rise

The food more likely to make you sick and why food poisoning is on the rise.Think of the foods most likely to cause food poisoning and barbecued prawns left too long in the sun spring to mind. But how about homemade mayo or garlic aioli? Of the 4.1 million cases of food poisoning in Australia each year around a third of reported outbreaks are linked to raw or lightly cooked eggs.

The problem? Egg shells carry salmonella.

The good news is that, unlike the US where eggs can carry salmonella on the inside, in Australia  only the shells are likely to be contaminated – but there’s always the risk that salmonella can reach the raw egg once the shell is cracked, says  Lydia Buchtmann, spokesperson for the Food Safety Information Council.

“Eggs are a brilliant food but you can assume the shell is carrying salmonella. This can be a problem if the raw egg becomes contaminated with salmonella and then used in an uncooked dish like mayonnaise or even a lightly cooked dessert like a mousse – and not refrigerated carefully”.

“With eggs from backyard chickens there’s more scope for shells to carry salmonella from chicken poo so it’s best not to use these eggs in foods that call for raw or lightly cooked eggs,” she says.

Meat that’s minced or rolled is risky too if not thoroughly cooked.  There’s a reason why it’s ok to eat steak rare -but not a hamburger that’s still pink in the middle. Meat carries bacteria on the outside and these are killed when the outside of the meat is seared in cooking.   But the process of mincing meat or rolling a piece of whole meat transfers bacteria from the outside to the inside of the meat. That’s why minced or rolled meat should be thoroughly cooked until its 75 degrees C. Buchtmann explains. A meat thermometer tells you when it’s cooked enough.

Unlike a whole piece of meat, a chicken or any other bird can be contaminated all the way through to the inside with salmonella or campylobacter -another common cause of food poisoning. There are around 220,000 cases of campylobacter infection each year according to the Council – and 50,000 can be attributed to chicken meat. It’s another reason to stick a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the meat to ensure its reached 75 degrees C.

While cases of food poisoning have decreased over all, the number of cases caused by salmonella and campylobacter, often found in eggs and poultry, have risen.

“It may be because we’re making more dishes like aioli with raw egg or that other foods become contaminated with juices from raw chicken either in the fridge or when food is prepared,” says Lydia Buchtmann.
Plant foods might seem less risky than meat, poultry or seafood, but it’s a mistake to leave cooked rice or pasta salad out of the fridge too long. These foods can form heat resistant toxins http://foodsafety.asn.au/pasta/ that aren’t killed when reheated, she adds.

You can be struck by food poisoning at any time of the year. But there are more pitfalls in the holiday season when the temperature rises, guests arrive and crowded fridges, frequently opened, struggle to keep food at a safe temperature. Buchtmann’s advice:  use a fridge thermometer to make sure the fridge is cold enough- and stash drinks in a cooler to reduce the number of times the fridge is opened.

Safe food rules

  • Eggs dishes like quiche should be cooked at 62 degrees.  
  • Don’t wash eggs – it can spread potentially harmful bacteria to other parts of the kitchen. If you use eggs from your own chickens, wipe them clean with a paper towel and wash your hands afterwards.  
  • Don’t wash raw chicken – this can spread bacteria around too.
  • Don’t leave food out of the fridge for more than two hours if you’re planning to eat it as leftovers. If it’s been out of the fridge for two to four hours, toss it out.
  • Wash fruit and veg thoroughly and – obviously – not on the same board used to prepare raw meat, poultry or fish. But with stone fruit like peaches and nectarines it’s best to wash them just before eating – washing and leaving them to sit in the fit bowl can encourage mould.
  • Use leftovers in the fridge within two to three days.

The Age 11/12/2017

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