Food safety’s gut-wrenching facts

Food poisoning in older adults can lead to serious consequences – that’s the key message from the Food Safety Information Council this week.

The spate of deadly food poisonings that resulted this year from a listeria outbreak which  infected rock melons, also known as cantaloupe, should sound a warning that you cannot take the safety of what you eat for granted.

Between 16 January and 10 April this year, 22 cases of listeriosis occurred in NSW, Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania, leading to seven deaths and a miscarriage.

An investigation of Rombola Family Farms in Nericon in NSW, the source of the rock melons, found that its hygiene and sanitary procedures were “on par with or better than most other rockmelon-growing operations across Australia”, according to an ABC report.

The probe concluded that wet weather followed by a dust storm, coupled with the rough, difficult-to-clean outer skin of the fruit were contributing factors to the bacteria gaining a foothold.

Following the rock melon listeria outbreak, a recall was made of imported frozen vegetables  linked to 47 cases of listeria cases and nine deaths in Europe and one in Australia.

This week is Australian Food Safety Week and the council is urging people to take food poisoning seriously.

“We need to remember that food poisoning isn’t just a minor stomach upset, but it should be taken seriously as it can be fatal,” the council said.

“Listeria are bacteria that are widely found in the environment, so most raw foods are likely to be contaminated.

“Fortunately, the bacteria is easily killed by cooking. Just remember that cooked foods can easily become re-contaminated through poor food handling after cooking.

“For foods that can’t be cooked you can make other choices such as using fresh whole lettuce for salads rather than bagged lettuce.”

The council said people at risk of an infection, such as the elderly and those with depleted immunities, need to avoid or, where possible, cook the following foods:

  • 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 such as brie, camembert, ricotta, feta and blue cheese (pre-packaged and delicatessen), unpasteurised dairy products (such as raw milk or cheeses) and soft-serve ice cream
  • pre-prepared or pre-packaged cut fruit and vegetable salads, salads sold in bags or containers or from salad bars, shops or buffets, frozen fruit or vegetables that may not be further cooked (such as berries, peas, sweet corn); rockmelon/cantaloupes (whole or cut); and bean or seed sprouts
  • raw seafood (such as oysters, sashimi or sushi); smoked ready-to-eat seafood; ready-to-eat peeled and cooked prawns in prawn cocktails, sushi and sandwich fillings; and prawn or seafood salads; and seafood extender (imitation crab meat).

“It’s important you maintain a healthy and varied diet if you are pregnant, elderly or immune compromised so we recommend you also talk to your GP or an accredited practising dietitian about how to eat well while avoiding foods at risk of listeria,” the council said.

To further reduce your risk of becoming infected, 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 refrigerated temperatures, so ready-to-eat food or leftovers should never be stored in the fridge for more than 24 hours. 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 or freeze within 24 hours; always look for cooking and storage instructions on the food package label and follow them; cook high-risk foods such as poultry, minced meat, sausages, hamburgers and leftovers to 75°C; and cook egg dishes, such as quiche, to 72°C in the centre (or until the white is firm and the yolk thickens).

If you have ever suffered food poisoning, what was the cause? How long did it take you to recover and what did your doctor recommend as a treatment?

Related articles:
Tips to avoid food poisoning
Facts about airline food
Where you can get sick

Health disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.


Written by YourLifeChoices Writers

YourLifeChoices' team of writers specialise in content that helps Australian over-50s make better decisions about wealth, health, travel and life. It's all in the name. For 22 years, we've been helping older Australians live their best lives.

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