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Many of the infectious diseases that can make people very ill can be prevented by taking care with handling food and with hand washing, especially if someone in the family is sick. Here are some of the ways to help protect your family from the spread of infection.
Key food safety tips
- Wash hands with soap and water, rinse well and dry completely before handling food, and after preparing raw food
- Keep hot food hot - at or above 60º
- Keep cold food refrigerated - at or below 5º
- Separate raw and cook food (have separate cutting boards)
- Keep all boards, surfaces and utensils clean
- If you are sick, ask someone else to prepare food.
The Food Policy and Programs Branch of the South Australian Department of Health has produced a short Food Safety Fundamentals video presented by Adam Liaw that outlines the four food safety tips - clean, separate, chill and cook. Adam puts these rules in to practice by showing how to safely make a delicious Lemon and Herb Butter Chicken and a Classic Caesar Salad.
Keep healthy with clean hands
Infectious diseases can spread in a variety of ways. One common way is when hands that have picked up germs carry those germs to the mouth or nose. Hand washing is the single most important way to stop the spread of many infections.
When to wash your hands
- preparing and handling food
- eating food
- going to the toilet
- handling raw food and cracking raw eggs
- using a tissue, coughing or sneezing
- handling rubbish
- touching ears, nose, hair, mouth
- changing babies' nappies
- touching objects that are soiled by blood or other body fluids
- touching animals
5 steps to clean hands
- Use soap (a plain bar soap or liquid soap is suitable) and running water. Disinfectant soaps are usually not needed
- Rub your hands vigorously under the water for 10-15 seconds
- Wash all surfaces: backs of hands, wrists, between fingers, under nails
- Rinse well
- Dry hands thoroughly
For more information have a look at the SA Health fact sheet 'Hand hygiene'.
Apart from hand washing there are other surfaces to remember to keep clean. In particular think about babies' toys that they put in their mouths. Dummies also need to be washed especially if there is an infection in the family. Toothbrushes must be kept clean and dry.
Illness from foods
- There are about 5 million cases of food related illness each year in Australia. Much of this is preventable.
- Food that contains dangerous levels of germs may not look, smell or taste different from safe food. But if food does smell or taste different, do not eat it.
- Germs grow on foods if given the chance - especially in temperatures between 5º and 60º C.
- Foods which are particularly likely to grow germs include chicken, seafood, eggs, raw or undercooked ('rare') meats (including salami, mettwurst, pastrami), unpateurised dairy products and stored cooked rice, gravies and sauces. These foods contain lots of protein and other food 'goodies' that germs love to grow on.
- If food is correctly handled, stored and cooked it is very unlikely to cause health problems.
- Bacteria multiply best between 5º and 60º C, so to keep well, perishable food needs to be very hot or very cold
- Make sure the temperature of your fridge is 4º C or less, and that your freezer is around -18º C.
- Store all foods according to the directions on the label. Many foods that you buy off the shelf need to be refrigerated after they are opened.
- Store raw meat near the bottom of the fridge to make sure the juices don't drip onto other foods, or put it in a covered container. Use before the use-by date, or within 2 or 3 days of buying it. Freeze meat and chicken that you will not be using before the use-by date.
- Put leftovers in the fridge to cool as soon as they have stopped steaming. Do not leave them to cool on the bench. Do not reheat leftovers more than once.
Keep your fridge clean. (All fridges carry germs, dirty ones will have more!)
For more information have a look at 'The storage life of food' from the CSIRO
You can freeze almost any food, but being able to freeze the food and being pleased with the quality of the food after defrosting are two different things. Some foods such as eggs, or crisp vegetables like lettuce, do not freeze well.
- Food that is kept at -18°C (0°F) will keep safe almost forever, but the food quality suffers with long freezer storage.
- Food that is stored at a higher temperature (as in many home freezers) will not keep as long. If the freezer cannot maintain -18°C or the door is open often, plan to keep food in the freezer just for short periods of time.
- Freezing keeps food safe by preventing the growth of micro-organisms (bacteria, yeasts, moulds) while the food is frozen.
- Most microbes are not killed by freezing, so they can start growing again when the food is thawed. Thawed food needs to be handled in the same way that fresh perishable food is handled.
For more information see the topic 'Freezing food'.
- Ask other people to prepare the food if you are not well.
- Wash your hands in hot soapy water before preparing food, and during preparation if you have stop to do something else.
- Keep kitchen surfaces clean. Keeping things clean gets rid of most of the germs. Sterilisation or disinfection is then usually not needed except if food is to be kept for a long time.
- Make sure dish cloths and sponges are kept clean and dried fully before they are used again. It is best to use cloths you can throw away such as paper towels when possible.
- Wash raw foods such as salad vegetables and fruit before eating them. Wash the outside of melons and other fruits before cutting them. Root vegetables should be scrubbed or peeled.
- Wash the lids of cans before opening them, and wash the can opener after using it.
- Thaw frozen meat fully before cooking.
- Keep raw foods and cooked foods separate - on your work bench, chopping boards and in the fridge.
- Eat cooked foods straight away. Food that cannot be eaten straight away should be kept steaming hot (about 60º C) or put in the fridge.
- If food has to be reheated it should be thoroughly heated (not just warmed).
People who have any infectious illness should not prepare food for others if possible.
- Only buy from shops that look clean and where staff can be seen to follow good food preparation procedures.
- If buying hot food such as pies, do not buy it unless it is really hot (not just warm).
- If you are buying sandwiches or rolls from a shop, only buy ones that have been kept in a refrigerator or freshly made, not ones that are left out on the shelf.
- Eat the sandwich or roll that you buy straight away, or keep it in a fridge.
- Many children like to use the school tuck shop, and some parents allow this as a weekly treat, or allow for it in the child's pocket money. Most school tuck shops have healthy food and need to follow careful food preparation procedures.
Storing packed lunches
- Packed lunches such as sandwiches can also be a health risk if they are kept too long or not well stored.
- Because it is unlikely that school lunches can be stored in a fridge it is a good idea to buy an insulated lunch box to help keep the food cool.
- Make sure that food which has been cooked, such as a hard boiled egg, has been properly cooled in the fridge before packing it in a lunch box.
- Packing a bottle of frozen drink with the lunch will give children a cold drink and help keep the lunch cool. Yoghurt and milk, and sandwiches can also be frozen.
- Make sure your children keep their lunches in as cool a place as possible. Talk to your school about where children's lunches are kept.
Ask your children if these ideas keep the food reasonably cold until lunch time.
What to put in lunch boxes
The following foods will usually be safe to put in school lunches even you are unable to keep the food cold.
- Fresh or dried fruit.
- Pieces of vegetable - carrot and celery sticks etc.
- Wrapped cheese sticks
- A drink eg of water, which has been frozen over night.
- Vegemite, honey, jam or peanut butter sandwiches.
- Tuna in a can or sealed packet.
- Many schools allow children to have a small 'brain food' break. This is usually fruit, dried fruit or vegetable sticks. Having this in a small container by itself is helpful.
What not to put in lunch boxes
If you cannot keep the food cold the following foods should be avoided.
- All meats except dried meat.
- Dairy products - yoghurt, soft cheeses, milk (flavoured or plain) - the things you find in the fridge in the supermarket. Milk in the original pack could be frozen, which will also help to keep other food cool.
- Other food which you would normally keep in the fridge such as seafood and cooked leftovers.
- Choose places to eat where the food and the staff look clean. Wearing gloves does not mean extra cleanliness unless the gloves are changed with each task and food preparation guidelines followed.
- Self service food should have a guard to prevent people sneezing or coughing on the food.
- Check that raw meats, and cooked meats and salads are not touching each other.
- Hot foods should be served steaming hot and cold foods should be cold.
- Make sure that mince, sausages, hamburger, patties, kebabs, rolled roasts and chicken are cooked right through. There should be no pink meat, and juices should be clear.
- Steaks and whole roasts can be cooked to your preference, but very rare is not recommended.
- If you are served with undercooked meat, send it back and ask for fresh vegetables as well because the vegetables may have been in contact with the meat and meat juices.
- Always check the date mark on foods, especially fresh foods such as meat and dairy products. If in doubt don't buy it.
- Products should not be overloaded in supermarket fridges or freezers. Look for the black line in fridges with the words "Load limit". No food should be stored above or in front of this line.
- If buying from the deli counter, check that staff use separate tongs for each item.
- Do not buy goods that are damaged:
- dented cans
- leaking cartons, bottles or containers
- swollen packages or cans
- broken or imperfect seals
- dairy products or other chilled foods which have been left out of the fridge
- products with any mould or discolouration.
- When shopping in the supermarket, collect refrigerated and frozen foods last, also buy any hot foods last. Keep hot foods and frozen foods separate. If you pack the frozen foods together they will help keep each other cold.
- Ask the packer to put raw meat in a separate bag.
- If you are going to take more than half an hour to get home, put your chilled and frozen goods in an insulated cooler for the trip. Don't buy hot foods if you are going to have a long drive home.
- Put frozen and chilled foods into the fridge as soon as you get home.
- Sausage sizzles and barbeques are popular social events and fund raisers but there are risks for food poisoning that can be avoided.
- Follow food preparation, storage and transport suggestions above.
- Use disposable plates, cups, knives and forks unless there are good and easily accessible facilities for washing utensils.
- Ensure there is safe drinking water and also running water and soap for hand washing.
- Have a look at the information on the Department of Health site about Food Safety for Charities and Community Groups -
Information in languages other than English
Department of Health, Victoria
Department of Health (South Australia) 'Preventing food poisoning at home':
Food Standards Australia and New Zealand. Food Safety Fact Sheets:
Lunch Box World, healthy eating online. Meerilinga (WA):
Luby SP et al 'Effect of handwashing on child health: a randomised controlled trial' The Lancet Vol 366, July16, 2005 pp 225-233
The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).
This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.