One of the most important events on the calendar for anyone that handles food, either at work or at home, national food safety week is an opportunity for experts in food safety to emphasise the importance of basic hygiene practices in the fight against food poisoning. Despite decades of activity by the Australian government to raise awareness of food safety issues, a recent study from the Australian National University, commissioned by FSANZ (Food Standards Australia New Zealand) found that there are around 4.67 million cases of gastroenteritis caused by bacteria in food each year. These usually result in more than 47,000 hospitalisations each year, as well as, unfortunately, a number of deaths.

There are a variety of circumstances that can cause food poisoning, one of the most common of which is failure to cook food correctly. Heating food to an appropriate temperature for a sufficient period of time doesn’t just optimise the taste of the cooked product, it also kills any bacteria that are present in the food. This significantly reduces the risk that food poisoning will occur when the dish is consumed. Although there are many other factors that can contribute to making food unsafe to eat, the 2022 food safety week theme concentrated on reminding food handlers to check that meat, vegetables, poultry, fish and eggs are cooked to a safe temperature and for long enough to kill bacteria.

Do you use your meat thermometer?

A common problem for cooks, chefs and food handlers is deciding when meat or fish is actually cooked through. Although the outside of a joint or larger cut may appear cooked, the inside could still be raw or partially cooked. Timing isn’t always an accurate indication of whether a foodstuff has undergone sufficient cooking, as the temperature inside appliances, the size of the food and the cooking dishes utilised may all make a difference to the amount of cooking required.

In these situations, the easiest way to tell if a piece of meat, a fish or some other dish has reached the required temperature in the middle is to use a meat thermometer. These handy pieces of kitchen equipment are designed to quickly penetrate down to the middle of a bird or joint, accurately recording the internal temperature. Using a meat thermometer, it’s possible to rapidly determine if adequate cooking has taken place. The message from food safety week is to buy a meat thermometer (if you don’t already have one) and use it.

What temperature does my food need to be cooked to?

As well as recording the internal temperature of a foodstuff, a meat thermometer usually includes details of the required temperature a variety of meat, fish and other products needs to reach for safe eating. For example, poultry and minced beef (including burgers) should be cooked to 75 degrees Celsius, whereas chops and steaks need only be cooked to 63 degrees Celsius. The FSANZ-commissioned study discovered less than a third of Australian households own a meat thermometer!

Commercial kitchens should have a meat thermometer with a probe available and ready for use at all times. In addition, the thermometer needs to be cleaned thoroughly between uses and stored hygienically. Rigorous cleaning helps to ensure that the reading is accurate and minimises the risk of cross-contamination.

Don’t forget about parasites

It’s not just germs and bacteria that can survive in poorly prepared and inadequately cooked food, parasites may also be transmitted through poor food hygiene practices. During food safety week, there was a focus on the dangers that readily transmissible parasites, such as toxoplasmosis or tapeworm, present. As well as ensuring vegetables and fruit are always washed thoroughly, adequate cooking and ensuring that the correct temperature is reached for the foodstuff, kills parasites, ensuring food remains safe to eat.

Find out more with an accredited food handling course

Whilst the messages from food safety week should already be ingrained into commercial kitchen practice, there are a surprising number of home cooks who don’t understand the importance of heating food to the correct temperature. Whether you’re about to embark on a catering career and want to avoid rookie food handling mistakes, or are a seasoned home cook who’s eager to keep their family safe from the horror of food poisoning, a food hygiene certificate covers a wide range of relevant information.

Get in touch with the team at AIA to book a certified food handling and food safety course, available to take online whenever you can fit it around your existing schedule.