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Note Some information on this page copied from SA Dept of Human Services web site.
Preventing food poisoning in the home

What is food poisoning?

Food poisoning is an illness resulting from consuming contaminated food or water. Food can be contaminated by bacteria, viruses or parasites or by toxic substances produced by certain bacteria. Food poisoning is one of the most common illnesses in Australia, with an estimated 1.5 million Australians suffering from food-borne illness each year.

Appropriate personal hygiene and proper practices in the preparation and storage of food can help prevent food poisoning in the community and in the home.

What causes food poisoning?

Many different organisms can cause food poisoning. Most are bacteria.

Food poisoning can result from:

  • eating contaminated food
  • drinking contaminated water
  • being in contact with a person who is infected with a food-borne illness
  • being in contact with an animal that is infected with a food-borne illness.
Contaminated food may not look, smell or taste any different from food that is safe.

Bacteria will grow on most foods. Common sources of food poisoning include chicken, seafood, some raw eggs, red meats, unpasteurised (raw) dairy products and stored cooked rice. These foods are called high-risk foods because they provide a good environment for the growth of bacteria. Foods that are not high-risk include dried foods in their original packaging, and jars, cans or other containers that have been processed by heat. However, once these foods are opened they may become high-risk foods.

High-risk foods include:

  • unpasteurised dairy products, such as unpasteurised milk, yoghurt and cheese
  • raw or undercooked meat including salami, mettwurst, pastrami and proscuttio, and raw or undercooked chicken and seafood
  • cooked, then stored, rice, gravies, sauces
  • some raw eggs
  • drinking untreated water. (Mains water is treated)
The risk of food poisoning is almost eliminated entirely if food is properly handled, stored and cooked and then eaten immediately.

A great proportion of food poisoning is due to:

  • a food-handler preparing food without washing hands properly
  • an ill food-handler preparing food for others to eat
  • not washing hands before eating food
  • eating food that is not cooked thoroughly
  • allowing food to be at a temperature that allows bacteria to grow. High-risk food should be kept cold enough (5oC or less, ie, refrigerated or frozen) or hot enough (60oC or more, ie, steaming hot) to prevent bacteria from growing
  • cross contamination in the kitchen. Some foods such as raw meat are contaminated. If hands, utensils or the preparation area (eg, a chopping board) are not thoroughly cleaned after being in contact with these products, other foods can be contaminated and make people ill.
Personal hygiene practices

Always wash your hands before preparing or eating food.

Remember to wash your hands after:

  • using the toilet for any reason. A variety of surfaces in the toilet may have traces of faeces on them.
  • changing nappies
  • handling raw food
  • using a handkerchief or tissue
  • coughing or sneezing
  • smoking
  • touching ears, nose, mouth, hair or other parts of the body
  • touching animals
  • handling garbage
  • gardening
  • handling objects soiled with blood or other body substances.
Do not:
  • sneeze or cough over food
  • prepare food if suffering from throat, skin or bowel infections
  • smoke in areas where food is prepared or served
  • taste, sample or eat while preparing or handling food.
If you need to taste the food, use a clean spoon each time and don’t put it back in the food after tasting.


  • protect cuts and sores with a clean dressing and waterproof cover. Cuts and sores on the hands should be covered with disposable gloves or brightly coloured bandages so that they can be easily seen if they fall off.
  • prevent hair from falling into food. Tie it away from the face.
  • ensure that children wash their hands before eating or assisting with food preparation.
  • remove jewellery, eg, rings and bracelets, before washing hands and handling food.
  • once disinfectants have been diluted, they start to loose their strength. Use immediately.
  • gloves should be worn when using chemical disinfectants because disinfectants can cause skin problems.
  • empty buckets after use, wash with detergent and warm water and store dry.
  • mops should be cleaned in detergent and warm water and stored dry.
  • clean inside your cupboards and fridge regularly. Crumbs in cupboards can attract pests and dirty fridges can harbour bacteria.

Pests such as flies, cockroaches and mice carry disease.

Keep food safe by:

  • keeping flies out of the kitchen, storage and dining areas.
  • using fly spray thoughtfully. Cover all food before you spray and until you can no longer smell the spray.
  • keeping food scraps stored in garbage bins with close fitting lids. This prevents pests eating the scraps and breeding.
  • storing chemicals used to control pests in areas away from those used to store, prepare or eat food.
  • Do not allow animals into kitchens. In particular, do not feed them in the kitchen.
  • Do not wash pet feed bowls in the kitchen sink.

A car provides an excellent temperature for bacteria to multiply. Therefore, food should only be in the car for as short a time as possible. If food will be in a car for longer than about half an hour, put cold foods into an esky and avoid buying hot foods. Whether you shop by car, bus or walk, go straight home. When you get home, put cold things into the refrigerator or freezer straight away and eat hot food straight away.

Remember that high-risk food should be kept cold enough (5oC or less, ie, refrigerated or frozen) or hot enough (60oC or more, ie, steaming hot) to prevent bacteria from growing.

  • Get refrigerated and frozen foods at the end of the shopping trip and keep them cold.
  • Get hot foods at the end of the shopping trip and keep them hot.
  • Keep hot foods separate from cold foods.
  • Raw meats can drip onto other foods and contaminate those foods. Therefore, wrap meats in extra plastic bags to prevent juices from contaminating other foods.
  • When using a salad bar, use the server provided for each salad and hold the server by the handle. Do not touch the food with your hands, or taste it. Eat the salad within 24 hours. If you see anyone touching food report it to a staff member.
  • Check date markings on food packages eg, use-by or best before dates
  • Never buy or use the following:
    • dented cans
    • leaking cartons, cans, bottles or containers
    • torn or ripped packaging
    • food packages or cans that are swollen
    • cracked eggs
    • containers with broken or imperfect seals
    • foods that should be chilled or frozen, eg, dairy products, that have been left out of refrigerators. If something is marked ‘keep refrigerated’ or ‘keep chilled’, and it isn’t in a refrigerator or freezer, don’t buy it.
    • foods that have mould, discolouration or evidence of animals or insects eating the food or the packaging
    • foods that are ready to eat that have been in contact with raw meat, chicken or seafood or their juices. Take note of how cooked meats and seafood are presented as you shop.
    • products in loose vacuum packs
    • products in packaging that has been tampered with
    • products that are above the line marked ‘load limit’ in open freezers or fridges. Products above this line may not have been kept cold enough.
Storing food

Remember that high-risk food should be kept cold enough (5oC or less, ie, refrigerated or frozen) or hot enough (60oC or more, ie, steaming hot) to prevent bacteria from growing. Remember to:

  • immediately freeze products that you don’t intend to use before the use-by date. Freezing greatly extends the use-by date.
  • remove the product from the store wrap and put into freezer bags before freezing to maintain quality. Remove all air from the bag, tie, label and date the bag.
  • check the temperature of your refrigerator using a fridge thermometer. It should be 4oC or less, and your freezer should be -10oC or less.
  • if the container is to be frozen it should be sealed with plastic or a lid to prevent the formation of frost.
Cooling food quickly
  • place food into the refrigerator or freezer as soon as possible after cooking. If possible, store the food in the container in which it was cooked. If food needs to be transferred to another container for storage, transfer it while it is hot if possible. This partially ‘sterilises’ the container and reduces the growth of bacteria. Most fridges can cope with small amounts of hot food being placed directly in the refrigerator or freezer. Large amounts of food may need to be cooled first. This should be done as quickly as possible.
  • food can be cooled more quickly if it is put into a shallow container.
  • if food is cooked in a saucepan, put the lid on and place in a sink containing some cold water. Don’t let the water enter the saucepan. A few changes of water may be required. Cooling can be reduced from hours to a few minutes in this way.
Raw meats can drip onto other foods and contaminate those foods.
  • Wrap meats from the shop in extra plastic bags to prevent juices from contaminating other foods.
  • Store raw meats near the bottom of the fridge to ensure that juices do not drip onto other foods. Alternatively, put meat into a covered tray or container within the fridge. Use meat within two or three days if it does not have a use-by-date.
  • Keep raw foods on separate plates from ready-to-eat foods such as cooked foods and salads.
Bacteria still grow in foods that have been kept refrigerated – they just take longer to grow.
  • Don’t eat food that has been in the refrigerator too long.
  • Don’t freeze food that has been in the refrigerator for more than a day. Extra bacteria will have grown and they will not die in the freezer.
More storage advice
  • Don’t eat foods that have been incorrectly stored after initial cooking.
  • Eggs should be refrigerated.
  • Foods must be stored in areas specifically designed for that purpose. Food should not be stored on the ground as this encourages insects and mice and makes cleaning difficult. Make sure that food does not remain in storage too long by using older stock first.
Handling and preparing food

Many raw animal products, such as raw meat, are contaminated. If hands, utensils or the preparation area (eg, a chopping board) are not thoroughly cleaned after being in contact with these products, other foods can be contaminated and make people ill.

It is best to use a different chopping board, plates and utensils when handling foods that are ready-to-eat, like cooked food or a salad, and those which are yet to be cooked, like meat. If you have only one chopping board, wash well with hot soapy water, and rinse before re-using.

Safe handling and food preparation habits

  • Never place cooked foods on dishes that have contained raw products such as meat, poultry and fish, unless the plates have been thoroughly washed first.
  • Never use a sauce on cooked food if is has previously been used to marinate raw meat or seafood, unless the marinade has been cooked first. For example, do not spoon the uncooked juices or marinade over the cooked food and serve. The uncooked marinade will probably contain harmful bacteria.
  • Wash hands well in hot soapy water for around 30 seconds before preparing food, before eating and after touching raw meats
  • Ask other people to prepare food if you are not feeling well.
  • All fruit and vegetables should be thoroughly washed, especially if they are to be eaten raw.
    • The outside of melons and pumpkins should be washed before storage or cutting to remove any dirt. Cutting a dirty melon can contaminate the whole melon.
    • Lettuce leaves should be rinsed individually under cold tap water.
    • Root vegetables such as potatoes and carrots, should be scrubbed or peeled, especially if they are to be eaten raw.
    • Delicate fruit such as strawberries should be washed in a colander. Their leafy stems should be removed, as they provide good hiding places for bacteria.
    • Sprouts and herbs should be rinsed before serving.
  • Work quickly with perishable food so that it is in the ‘danger temperature range’ (5oC to 60oC) for as short a time as possible. Never keep perishable food outside of a fridge for any longer then 2 hours (1 hour in temperatures over 30oC). This includes preparation and serving time.
  • Wash the lids of canned foods before opening them to keep dirt from getting into the contents. Clean the blade of the can opener after each use.
  • Do not touch ready-to-eat or cooked food with your hands.
  • When making dishes where hot and cold ingredients are mixed, such as potato or pasta salads, always cool the hot component before adding the cold ingredients. Mixing hot and cold ingredients will create a warm mixture for bacteria to grow.
Thawing frozen foods
  • Thaw meat and other foods in the bottom of the fridge whenever possible. Food can be thawed in a microwave oven, at room temperature (eg, on a bench) or in water, provided the food is cooked immediately after it has thawed.
  • Throw away all liquids resulting from defrosting meat and poultry.
  • Thawed meats should not be frozen again unless they are cooked. Once cooked, meats can be frozen immediately after cooking.
  • Take great care if you cook meats when they are only partially thawed. Make sure that they are cooked right through.
Cooking and reheating

The outside of meat is usually the part that is contaminated with bacteria. Therefore, eating a steak where the outside is cooked but the inside is not, is still relatively safe as far as food poisoning is concerned.

The problem comes when contamination from the outside moves to the inside, such as when meat is minced or sliced, or a skewer is pushed through the meat. Then the meat must be thoroughly cooked right through. Therefore, mince, sausages, hamburger patties, rolled roasts, kebabs, yiros, shasliks and other such foods should be cooked right through.

Thorough cooking means that there is no pink meat and the juices run clear when the meat is skewered, cut or pressed. It is also wise to cook pork and chicken right through, regardless.

  • If you have access to a meat thermometer, you can use it and check the internal temperatures. In the case of hamburgers and poultry, make sure they are cooked throughout. Aim for around 75oC in the centre of the meat item.
  • Microwaves are a quick and convenient way to cook foods, however, they tend to heat foods rather unevenly, leaving cold spots. So when microwaving foods, always rotate and stir the food during cooking to get more even cooking. Also, wait until the required standing time is over before you check that cooking is complete, because foods continue to cook even when the microwave is turned off.
  • When reheating foods, heat to steaming hot (above 75oC). This will kill any bacteria, which may have grown on the food in the fridge. If you still have leftover food, throw it away. Do not reheat a product more than once, and use all leftovers within a day of preparation.
Eating out-doors (picnics, barbecues, camping, school lunches)

Remember that food should be kept cold enough (5oC or less, ie, refrigerated or frozen) or hot enough (60oC or more, ie, steaming hot) to prevent bacteria from growing.

  • Keep all food cold, unless it has just been cooked and will be eaten hot straight away. Don’t pack food if it has just been cooked and will be eaten cool. Let it get cold in the fridge first.
  • Don’t eat left-overs, unless they can be kept cold all of the time they are out of the fridge.
  • Do the maximum amount of food preparation at home, particularly if handwashing facilities are inadequate at the place where the food will be eaten.
  • When camping, it is best to pack dried, canned and UHT foods rather than fresh foods.
  • When packing children’s lunches, either pack a frozen ice block drink in the lunch box to keep food cold (summer and winter), or choose foods that will not ‘go off’. That is, do not pack foods that would normally be kept in the fridge, such as milk, yoghurt, cheese, meats, eggs, etc, even in sandwiches. Fillings for sandwiches that are fairly safe under warmer conditions are often those fillings that can sit on a shelf without needing refrigeration, such as honey, Vegemite, Nutella and peanut paste.
Eating out (restaurants and take-aways)
  • Remember that high-risk food should be kept cold enough (5oC or less, ie refrigerated or frozen) or hot enough (60oC or more, ie steaming hot) to prevent bacteria from growing.
  • Sandwiches and rolls containing foods such as cheese, eggs and meat, should be kept refrigerated. Don’t buy them otherwise.
  • Cold foods should be cold to the touch and should be displayed on ice or in a fridge.
  • Hot foods should be steaming hot. Do not eat foods that have come from a heated display if they are only warm. Send them back.
  • Food should be properly cooked.  This means that mince, sausages, hamburger patties, rolled roasts, kebabs, yiros, shasliks and other such foods should be cooked right through. If they are not, send them back.
  • Eat hot foods while they are still hot. Be careful about eating left-overs, including foods taken home in a ‘doggy bag’. They should be put in the refrigerator as soon as possible and eaten within a day
  • If you are not happy with the quality of the food at a restaurant or take-away, contact your Environmental Health Officer at your local council and discuss your concerns.

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