The term ‘food poisoning’ tends to be one of those throwaway lines. We’ll often self-diagnose if we feel queasy after eating something that didn’t agree with us, or if we get an upset tummy after eating something not normally part of our diet. But it can be a dangerous condition.
‘Food poisoning—take it seriously’ is the theme of this year’s Australian Food Safety Week (10–17 November).
Food Safety Information Council chairperson Rachelle Williams says there are an estimated 4.1 million cases of food poisoning in Australia each year that result in more than a million doctor visits, 31,900 hospitalisations and cause more than 80 deaths each year.
“We need to remember that food poisoning isn’t just a minor stomach upset; it should be taken seriously as it can be fatal,” Ms Williams says.
“The listeria outbreak linked to Australian rockmelons earlier this year resulted in seven tragic deaths and a miscarriage. This was followed by a recall of imported frozen vegetables which was linked to 47 listeriosis cases, nine deaths in Europe and one death in Australia.”
Those at greater risk if they do get food poisoning include people who are elderly or have poor immune systems, and pregnant women.
“Listeria is bacteria that are widely found in the environment, so most raw foods are likely to be contaminated,”
Ms Williams says.
“But you don’t have to miss out on your favourite foods, because listeria is easily killed by cooking so, for example, add ham to a pizza, feta to a quiche or smoked salmon to fully-cooked scrambled eggs.”
Foods to avoid for people at risk include unpackaged meats from delicatessens; packaged, sliced, ready-to-eat meats; cold cooked chicken; soft, semi-soft and surface ripened cheeses and soft serve ice-cream; prepared or pre-packaged cut fruit and vegetable salads; frozen fruit or vegetables that may not be further cooked; rockmelon; bean or seed sprouts; and raw seafood.
Ms Williams says it’s important to remember that listeria, unlike most other food poisoning bacteria, can grow at refrigeration temperatures.
“Ready-to-eat food or leftovers should never be stored in the fridge for more than 24 hours,” she says. “Refrigerate leftovers promptly and use or freeze them within 24 hours.”