If you’re planning to experiment with a bold new meat recipe or are cooking for a pregnant friend, an older relative or a very young child this Christmas, then heed this warning from the Food Safety Information Council (FSIC): use a meat thermometer and avoid poisoning your guests.
Although the caution might sound extreme, especially if you’re an experienced cook, the FSIC warns that there’s an increased risk of food poisoning incidents when the temperature climbs in summer.
FSIC’s council chairperson, Rachelle Williams, explains that most Australian home cooks are still measuring the temperature of their meat just by looking at their dish. Despite all the cooking skill in the world, this method is nowhere near fool-proof.
“We know from our latest research that only 25 per cent of Australian households own a meat thermometer and even fewer report using one in the previous month,” says Williams.
“You can’t tell if riskier foods like the Christmas turkey or rolled roasts are cooked to 75°C just by looking, you really need a meat thermometer.
“If you already have a meat thermometer, rummage through that kitchen drawer and start to use it. If you don’t have one why not pick one up from your local homeware shop or hardware store while you are out Christmas shopping. Thermometers don’t have to be expensive with some costing under $20 so they can make great presents too.”
FSIC estimates suggest over four million cases of food poisoning in Australia each year, resulting in 31,920 hospitalisations, 86 deaths and one million visits to doctors. This year, the FSIC has focused on increasing awareness of two escalating foodborne illnesses: Campylobacter and Salmonella infection. Both health concerns are more prevalent the warmer months, as there is a heightened risk of people eating food that has been sitting at dangerous temperatures, allowing bacteria to grow and causing illness.
Safe Food Queensland also lists seafood, eggs, dairy products and pre-prepared salads as foods that present a high risk of food poisoning in summer.
Cook up a storm, not a disaster
The FSIC has created an online Christmas quiz for home cooks to test their knowledge of safe food preparation procedures in summer.
If you need to brush up on your safety skills, don’t fret. Here are a few tips from the FSIC (hint: and some of the quiz answers) to help households avoid nasty food disasters when entertaining in the heat.
1. Don’t wash any poultry before cooking, as that will spread the bacteria around your kitchen. Cook the turkey until a meat thermometer shows it has reached 75°C in the thickest part of the thigh and cook any stuffing separately as it might not fully cook inside a whole turkey.
2. Cooked egg dishes are simple and nutritious but try to avoid raw or minimally cooked egg dishes, such as raw egg mayonnaise or aioli, egg nog or fancy desserts, which can be a particular risk for food poisoning
3. Christmas ham won’t last forever – check the storage instructions and best before or use by date before removing the ham from its plastic wrap, cover it with clean cloth soaked in water and vinegar so it doesn’t dry out, and store it in the fridge below 5°C.
4. Refrigerate leftovers as soon as possible. Always reheat leftovers to 75°C in the centre of the item or the thickest part to kill any food poisoning bugs.
5. Wash your hands in warm soapy water before preparing and cooking food, and after handling eggs, raw meat, particularly poultry, burgers and sausages.
6. Avoid overstocking your fridge because this can affect the temperature – any unintentional fluctuations can impact the quality of the food stored. Use a fridge thermometer to check the temperature.
For more tips, visit the FSIC’s Food Safety at Christmas advice online.