Food safety 101: meal prep with care

Food poisoning is said to affect around 4.1 million Australians per year, so to avoid many trips to the toilet, we've uncovered the food safety hacks. 

 

Hygiene

Studies show that poor hand hygiene and cross-contamination via utensils in your home kitchen are main causes of foodborne illnesses. The Australian Institute of Food Safety explains that some bacteria reside in a microbiological film that exists on surfaces and equipment (think stove, bench tops and utensils). Using detergent to keep things squeaky clean will break apart the biofilm to expose the bacteria, which can then be killed through sanitising. Win.

Alders advises to try and work in order – from ready-to-eat food through to uncooked food – changing or washing your utensils as you go.

Contamination

Ross warns that cross-contamination between raw foods and fresh or cooked can occur when pathogens are transferred, usually via knives, cutting boards and your hands. Or when fluid from the raw food drips onto the lettuce you’re about to add to your fresh salad.

And it might seem like common sense, but “don’t put the plate down for the dog to eat off and then put it in the washing up with your stuff, because you’re going to be transferring germs across,” says Williams.

Refrigeration

Alders and Williams both emphasise the importance of not over-packing your fridge in order to ensure the air is circulating and an ideal temperature maintained. Use a thermometer to make sure your fridge is at below five degrees.

For highly perishable foods – think salad ingredients that decay quickly – Ross advises the best way to minimise the risk of foodborne illness is to keep them cold until ready to cook or serve.

Cooking temps

Use the right cooking temperature, especially for meats and poultry. Alders advises all meat parts should reach at least 75 degrees during cooking.

Cooling

According to Williams, nothing’s going to grow on cooked rice and pasta when they’re dry and in a closed container. However, once they’re cooked you’ve added water to them, so you’re increasing the moisture content – allowing bacteria to grow.

Following your Sunday meal prep, put your food into shallow containers (the plastic takeaway ones are ideal). Ensure the containers are clean and don’t rest the lid underneath the base of the container as you transfer your food, because anything on the bottom of the container will go onto the lid and then drop into your food once the lid goes on. Cover the container with the lid about two-thirds (to stop any contamination in the air getting in) and leave for about 15 minutes to let the steam vent; if you cover the container entirely and put it straight in the fridge, it will condense and turn into water. The hot container will also affect the temperature of the fridge.

Safe storage

How about the old plastic versus glass debate? Williams says the important thing is to keep food in an airtight container to avoid potential bacteria found in the fridge.

Williams also warns that plastic wrap contains tiny holes invisible to the naked eye, which allows gases and oxygen in the air to pass through – so although great to cover the salad you’re taking to the Sunday barbie, plastic wrap isn’t the best option for long-term storage.

Transporting food

Williams recommends putting your lunch in a container and into an insulated lunch box (preferably with something cold in there to keep it cool) to take to work. Just avoid placing the insulated box in the fridge, as the cold air can’t penetrate to keep your food cool and bacteria free.

If you’ve transported your warm grilled chicken in an insulated grocery bag, the heat keeps it nice and warm, allowing any bacteria to keep producing, explains Williams. She suggests taking it out of the bag, breaking it up and putting it into a shallow container in the fridge.

Serving

Once you’ve prepared food, keep it at 60 degrees until served, says Alders.

Reheating

Alders suggests reheating your food to at least 75 degrees – just to be safe.