• How safe is your reheated lunch? (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
What's more important to you - saving money by eating your dinner leftovers for lunch at work the next day or avoiding the potential risk of food poisoning posed by your microwaved lunch?
By
Yasmin Noone

16 Jan 2018 - 9:07 AM  UPDATED 16 Jan 2018 - 9:57 AM

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of satisfaction you get when your work colleagues covet your home-made lunch, comprised of last night’s recipe triumph. Sure, it looks amazing – no one in the office can doubt your kitchen talents – but how safe is it to take last night’s leftovers out of the fridge for the duration of your commute to work, refrigerate it when you get to the office and then reheat the meal to eat at lunch?

Food Safety Information Council chairperson, Rachelle Williams, says it depends on the temperature of the reheated meal, measured in the middle of each food item that you plan to eat.

“With the growing interest in cutting down on food waste, taking leftovers for lunch is a great idea as it is cost effective and healthier than buying take away,” says Williams.

“We must remember that they can be a risky food and, if they need heating up, they need to be reheated to 75°C in the centre of the food.”

The big problem with reheating leftovers at work is that we tend to use a microwave to do the job. Meanwhile, microwaves tend to reheat food unevenly, leaving the cooler sections of your meal to be a potential breading ground for bacteria.

“We must remember that they can be a risky food and, if they need heating up, they need to be reheated to 75°C in the centre of the food.”

So how do you get over this leftover hurdle? Be the cool kid at work and whip out your meat thermometer (perhaps purchased for the whole office to use). The council suggests measuring the temperature of your food in the centre after reheating to be sure it is safe for consumption.

Williams says another option is to use the automatic reheat function in the work microwave and follow any prompts to stir the food or let it stand for a time after reheating. If you are lucky enough to have an oven at work, be sure to use it instead of a microwave to reheat your meal. 

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To lower the risk of lunchbox food poisoning, the council recommends that leftovers be carried to work in a lunchbox that includes a frozen ice brick.

It’s essential to abandon leftovers that feature high-risk foods such as meat, poultry or eggs.

Rice also carries a significant risk if it is not served at the correct temperature after recooking. According to information provided by the UK’s NHS online, uncooked rice can contain Bacillus cereus spores, which may cause food poisoning and survive during the cooking process. Although it’s reasonably safe to eat warm cooked rice, once a dish has been left at room temperature, there’s a chance the bacteria will multiply and produce toxins. So the longer it is left at room temperature, the more likely the rice dish is to be unsafe. Err on the side of caution and leave sushi and risottos in your fridge at home.

Ensure that lunchbox foods are always well separated from other foods in the refrigerator, particularly raw meats, chicken, eggs in their shells and fish.

To lower the risk of lunchbox food poisoning, the council recommends that leftovers be carried to work in a lunchbox that includes a frozen ice brick.

Council research shows that four out of five adults take packed lunches to school while 94 per cent of households with children give their kids packed school lunches.

“There are an estimated 4.1 million cases of food poisoning in Australia each year so we need to be extra careful when taking food to lunch or school to make sure the food is handled safely to prevent bacteria from growing.”

The council estimates that instances of food poisoning result in around 31,920 hospitalisations, 86 deaths and one million visits to doctors on average each year.

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