12 November 2018

Spotlight on food hygiene as rates of food poisoning soar

Western Australia is experiencing high levels of reported foodborne illness, with approximately 80 per cent of notified cases linked to poor food hygiene at home.

Department of Health Food Strategy Leader Mark Fallows said Food Safety Week (10 to 17 November), provided a perfect opportunity to remind people to prepare their food safely and avoid becoming one of the estimated 4.1 million Australians who get food poisoning each year.

“In 2017 alone, more than 7,200 cases of infectious intestinal disease were reported in WA – most of which were likely attributed to food-borne transmission,” Mr Fallows said.

“This represents the number of cases where medical assistance was required, which is likely to underestimate the true value. The actual number of cases is predicted to be much higher.

 “The rate of salmonellosis in particular peaked in WA in 2017, and was higher than most other States and Territories at 100 cases per 100,000 population, compared to the national rate of 66 per 100,000 population.

“The majority of these cases were not linked to a food business, which means that most cases originated in the home and were caused by poor food preparation and safety.”

Mr Fallows said the Department of Health recently launched the WA Foodborne Illness Reduction Strategy 2018-2021, which outlines a whole-of-industry approach to reduce the rates of Salmonella and Campylobacter. This will be achieved through a collaborative partnership with the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, local governments, industry stakeholders and producers, and researchers.

A key Strategy goal will be to reduce the rates of salmonellosis cases by 30 per cent, while ensuring long-term foodborne illness rates remain consistent, or lower, than comparable countries.

“It is concerning that the rate of Salmonella in WA is so high, particularly as transmission is avoidable through correct food handling and safety,” he said.

Mr Fallows said that many people remain unaware that healthy, fresh foods such as fruits, vegetables and eggs are grown in farm environments and outer surfaces may not be bacteria free. It is important for people to practise safe food handling practices and ensure their food is prepared, cooked and stored correctly.

“While Western Australians should be eating the recommended five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit per day, it is important that they remember to wash them before eating– even if they are going to peel them – to prevent transferring bacteria to the inside of the food,” he said.

“It is also important to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water before handling food, especially cooked food, and between handling raw and cooked foods.”

Other food hygiene tips included:

  • Avoid using bare hands to touch food. Use tongs, forks and spoons whenever possible.
  • Always clean and sanitise work surfaces and utensils. Sanitisers kill bacteria, while detergents only remove dirt and grease.
  • Use separate cutting boards and knives for each type of food, for example raw meat, fish, vegetables and cooked foods.
  • Use paper towels whenever possible. Dishcloths and towels can carry bacteria.
  • DON’T use cracked eggs in raw egg dishes such as egg nog, uncooked desserts (eg. mousses and tiramisu), hollandaise sauce, fresh mayonnaise, aioli, health shakes with added raw egg or steak tartare. Always prepare raw egg dishes as close as possible to the time of consuming and refrigerate at or below 5°C. Pasteurised eggs available from grocers are a safer alternative to shell eggs.
    • DON’T wash eggs from your backyard chooks because it spreads bacteria around your kitchen. Use a paper towel or brush to remove as much visible dirt as possible and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards. Remember it is best not to use them in raw egg dishes.
    • DON’T eat undercooked dishes including minced meat (eg. hamburgers and sausages), liver (including liver paté), stuffed or rolled roasts or poultry. Ensure these foods are cooked all the way through to 75°C to kill any bacteria inside.
    • DON’T let juices from raw meat or poultry contaminate other foods that won’t be cooked, such as salads or desserts. Use separate chopping boards for raw meat and salad vegetables. Always cover raw meat and poultry in the fridge.

 More information on safe food handling can be found on the HealthyWA website.


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