Food poisoning is unsurprisingly more common in summer months.
Every Australian experiences food poisoning about once every five years. For most people, this “gastro” includes diarrhoea and vomiting and may be mild, but it can be more serious.
Children, older people, and those who have a compromised immune system are more likely to be hospitalised from food poisoning. Some more serious infections, such as Listeria, can affect certain groups such as pregnant women, leading to premature labour or stillbirth.
Many foods can cause food poisoning, but some are more likely to make people ill than others. Meat, in particular, is commonly contaminated by bacteria, such as Salmonella and Campylobacter. It needs to be kept separate from foods that don’t require cooking.
Utensils used for preparing raw meat should also be separate and not used for other foods. For picnics and meals outdoors, meats need to be kept refrigerated or in a portable insulated container, such as an esky, with ice before they are cooked.
If you are using an esky or portable fridge, it is important to make sure that you change the ice regularly. Definitely don’t let meats and their juices come into contact with other foods that are eaten without cooking.
Barbecues are a summer tradition. To avoid illness, meats should be cooked thoroughly. Ideally, use a thermometer to check the temperature of sausages, hamburgers and poultry, which should be about 75°C in the centre.
It’s important to use a clean tray for cooked meat, and not the one that previously held raw meat, as the tray can allow bacteria to transfer onto the cooked meat.
Other Food culprits
Some other foods that can cause illness include dishes made with raw or undercooked eggs, soft cheeses, and fresh produce. To prevent foodborne illness as a result of outdoor summer eating, it’s best to avoid dishes containing raw eggs and mayonnaise.
Most people think that the last thing they ate before becoming ill made them sick. Unfortunately, this can be difficult to tell, as most illness can take days to develop after eating contaminated food. And it is rare that there are leftover foods to undergo microbiological testing.
Keeping food refrigerated, washing fresh produce, cooking meat thoroughly, and keeping raw and cooked meat separate can all help to prevent outbreaks.