Talking turkey on food safety

raw turkey

Experts are warning that up to one in three Christmas guests could be at risk of the potentially deadly Listeria infection

Ahead of the silly season, the Food Safety Information Council says its research has found that one in three Australians are either at risk of getting the Listeria infection themselves, or live in a household with someone at risk.

The Council has advised people to check if any of the family or friends they are entertaining over the Christmas and summer period are at risk from the infection.

Rachelle Williams, FSIC Chair, said that although Listeria is a comparatively rare form of illness, it can be a very serious for the following groups of people:

  • pregnant women and their unborn babies;
  • people who have diabetes, cancer or suppressed immune systems due to other chronic diseases such as leukaemia, HIV, diabetes, liver or kidney disease, cirrhosis or ulcerative colitis;
  • older people (generally considered to be over 65 to 70 years) depending on their state of health and especially if they have an underlying health issue like those above;
  • people taking a medicine that suppresses their immune system e.g. prednisone or cortisone; and
  • organ transplant patients.

Ms Williams listed a number of foods to avoid serving – or, where possible, cook – for guests who are at risk.

These include:

  • unpackaged ready to eat meats from delicatessen counters and sandwich bars; packaged, sliced ready-to-eat meats; cold cooked chicken purchased ready to eat, whole, diced or sliced and refrigerated paté or meat spreads;
  • all soft, semi soft and surface ripened cheeses e.g. brie, camembert, ricotta, feta and blue (pre-packaged and delicatessen), unpasteurised dairy products (e.g. raw milk or cheeses) and soft serve ice cream;
  • pre-prepared or pre-packaged cut fruit and vegetable salads e.g. salads sold in bags or containers or from salad bars, shops or buffets, etc; pre-cut fruit and vegetables that will be eaten raw; frozen fruit or vegetables that may not be further cooked (e.g. berries, peas, sweet corn); rockmelon/cantaloupes (whole or cut); and bean or seed sprouts;
  • raw seafood (e.g. oysters, sashimi or sushi); smoked ready-to-eat seafood; ready-to-eat peeled prawns (cooked) e.g. in prawn cocktails, sandwich fillings; and prawn or seafood salads; and seafood extender.

She also listed a number of food safety tips to help prevent Listeria, as well as other forms of food poisoning:

  • Always wash your hands with soap and running water and dry thoroughly before handling food and keep food utensils and cooking areas clean.
  • Unlike most other food poisoning bacteria, Listeria can grow at refrigeration temperatures, so ready to eat food or leftovers should never be stored in the fridge for more than 24 hours. Since Listeria grows slowly in the fridge, it will do so only very slowly at cold temperatures so make sure your refrigerator is keeping your food at or less than 5°C.
  • Avoid refrigerated foods that are past their ‘use by’ date.
  • Refrigerate leftovers promptly and use within 24 hours or freeze.
  • Always look for cooking and storage instructions on the food package label and follow them when provided.
  • Cook high risk foods such as the turkey and other poultry, minced meat, sausages, hamburgers and leftovers to 75°C.
  • Cook egg dishes, such as quiche, to 72°C in the centre (or until the white is firm and the yolk thickens).
  • Cook frozen fruit and vegetables.

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