Aussies still reckless on food safety

food safety: raw chicken

Australians are still exhibiting some careless food safety behaviour, says the Food Safety Information Council today (World Health Day 2015) – and while food poisoning cases are dropping, numbers are still high.

To celebrate the day, which has the theme of food safety, the Council has released a report card assessing Australian consumers’ knowledge of food safety.

Council Chair, Professor Michael Eyles, says while it is good news that a recent Australian National University study found food poisoning cases in Australia have decreased from an estimated 4.3 million cases in 2000 to 4.1 million in 2010, this is still an alarmingly high number.

“Food poisoning can be serious and results in 31,920 hospitalisations, 86 deaths and 1 million visits to doctors on average each year,” he says.

“Australian consumers get an A plus for knowledge of how to wash their hands correctly with our latest survey showing 98% of those surveyed know how to wash hands correctly using soap and running water and drying thoroughly.

“85% also know to thoroughly wash a chopping board after using it for raw meat or poultry and before using it to prepare a raw food like salad. 89% correctly recognised that sausages should be cooked all the way through.

“But there are a number of other food safety practices where there can be ‘room for improvement’.”

  • Only 79% recognised that hamburgers should be cooked all the way through.
  • 22% of Australians think it is okay to leave cooked rice out of the refrigerator for up to six hours or overnight – or even that it doesn’t need refrigerating at all.
  • 25% of parents who pack a lunchbox for school fail to include a frozen drink or freezer block.
  • 55% always read and comply with ‘use by’ dates and only 45% always read and comply with ‘best before’ dates.
  • 33% of people always read and comply with storage instructions on packaged food labels and only14% always read and comply with cooking instructions.
  • 60% of home cooks are washing whole poultry before it is cooked which spreads bacteria around the kitchen. A further 16% of those surveyed incorrectly tasted chicken to see if it is cooked properly rather than use a safe and accurate meat thermometer.

“Also of concern is the lower level of food safety knowledge of 18 to 34 year olds compared with the older age group over 50,” says Prof Eyles.

“For example, only 73% of the younger group know to cook hamburgers all the way through compared with 84% of over 50s; only 87% of the younger group know to cook sausages all the way through compared with 93% of over 50s; and only 59% of the younger group know to refrigerate chicken dishes straight away compared with 72% of over 50s.

“This is a particular worry as some of these younger people may become parents and be responsible for preparing food for vulnerable young children,” he says.

Meanwhile Mary Barry, National CEO of the Heart Foundation, says unlike many places in the world, we are incredibly lucky here in that our food supply is mostly safe.

“In Australia the biggest dangers come from our own choices or having too many choices,” she says.

“This World Health Day, let’s take charge of the things we can control in our lives: our diet and physical activity.”

Recently released data showed Australians spend more than $7.16 billion on fast foods every year.

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