Body & Fitness

Avoid food poisoning this summer

If you’ve ever had food poisoning you’ll know it is not a lot of fun – I still have nightmares about a horrible bout I suffered as a teenager. Some forms of food poisoning can be very dangerous, especially to people who already have health problems. Yet often all it takes to avoid them is a few simple food hygiene practices.

10 common Food Handling oistakes

Reheating leftovers more than once.

Leaving food to marinate on the bench instead of in the fridge.

Not washing your hands before handling food and after touching raw meat and poultry.

Forgetting to wash knives and scrub chopping boards between preparing raw and cooked foods.

Not defrosting frozen food thoroughly before cooking.

Leaving hot food on the bench to cool for more than two hours.

Not cooking minced meat and sausages right through.

Not covering food stored in fridges and cupboards.

Keeping raw meat and poultry near fruit, veges and ready-to-eat food in the fridge. (Store raw meat away from other food and put it in the bottom of the fridge so drips can’t fall anything.)

Having a fridge that isn’t cold enough. It should be between 2ºC and 4º


Raw meat can contain harmful bacteria such as campylobacter, which can cause gastroenteritis. Luckily, cooking meat kills bugs. Some meat doesn’t have to be cooked through and can be served rare (flat or whole cuts of beef, lamb and venison) because the bugs they contain are usually restricted to the surface and are destroyed when the outside is seared.

other types of meat need to be cooked thoroughly because the bugs that infect them aren’t just on the surface.

These include:


Raw mince and processed meat such as sausages.

Whole cuts of meat with cavities (such as a chicken).

Products that have been de-boned, rolled or stuffed.

offal such as liver.

Re-formed meats or products such as cooked hams that have had marinades injected into them. It can be hard to tell if these pre-made products have been cooked right through because even if the meat has changed colour while cooking, the centre may not have been heated enough to kill bugs.

Using a food thermometer during the cooking process is the only effective way of knowing if meat has been hot enough for bugs to have been destroyed. Poultry and stuffed meats should reach 75ºC for at least 15 seconds while mince, sausage and processed meats need to get to 74ºC for the same length of time.

Another danger with meat is that if you don’t handle it correctly when it’s raw, bacteria can be transferred to other foods. Cross-contamination often occurs when liquid from meat seeps out onto other foods.

Raw poultry is particularly risky as it contains more liquid than other meats. To avoid cross-contamination, always keep meat separate from other foods – in shopping trolleys and supermarket bags as well as in the fridge – and follow these basic hygiene guidelines:

Keep raw meat in containers to prevent their juices dripping onto other foods.

Wash your hands with soap and hot water before and after handling raw meat.

Wash chopping boards, dishes, utensils and benches with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item. It’s best to use one chopping board for fresh produce and a separate one for raw meat.

Make sure all meat has been cooked thoroughly, especially chicken.

Never put cooked food on a plate or board which has had raw meat on it.


Your risk of getting sick from consuming shellfish depends on several factors, including the type of shellfish and the state of your immune system. Children, the elderly, pregnant women and people with a chronic illness have a greater chance of getting sick if they eat contaminated shellfish.

Shellfish with two shells, such as oysters, mussels, cockles, pipi and scallops, are riskier because they can pick up and store biotoxins, bugs from contaminated water and chemical contaminants such as fuels, paints and solvents.

Shellfish poisoning often causes vomiting and diarrhoea, but other symptoms can include tingling around the mouth, dizziness and headache. Get medical advice if you suffer any of these symptoms.

If you collect your own shellfish, always look for warnings about possible contamination sites and don’t collect shellfish from areas where:

Pipes or culverts run down to the beach.

Sewage or storm water is discharged.

Farm animals graze nearby.

There are signs of industrial pollution.

Boats may have discharged sewage or chemicals such as diesel.


Leftover cooked rice is another very common cause of food poisoning. Leaving rice to cool slowly at room temperature creates the perfect environment for a bacteria called bacillus cereus to develop. This can then produce

toxins that cause vomiting, nausea and diarrhoea. Reheating rice before you serve it won’t destroy the toxins or all the bacteria and you can’t tell if cooked rice is contaminated because it doesn’t look, taste or smell any different to normal rice.

To be sure cooked rice is safe to eat, you should either keep it hot and serve it immediately after cooking or cool it as quickly as possible. Rice cools faster if it’s removed from the hot pan or container it was cooked in and divided into clean, shallow containers less than 10cm deep.

Alternatively, you can cool cooked rice in a colander under cold running water, then cover the rice and store it in the fridge at a temperature of less than 4ºC.

Clean your chopping boards and knives every time you use them

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