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Take care to avoid a bilious summer

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The AMA has urged householders to be vigilant when storing and handling food during the warm summer months, in the wake of a Salmonella outbreak that left one woman dead and hundreds ill.
In one of the worst instances of food poisoning for some time, a 77-year-old woman died after eating food contaminated with Salmonella at a Melbourne Cup function in Brisbane, while an additional 200 people reported symptoms, including 11 who had to be hospitalised.
The outbreak, thought to have originated in a batch of eggs used by a catering company to make mayonnaise used at around 40 separate events, has underscored the importance of proper food handling.
AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton said outdoor entertaining was synonymous with summer and important part of the Australian lifestyle.
But Dr Hambleton said that, unfortunately, what should be a time of relaxation and fun was occasionally marred when food that had not been properly stored or handled went off and made people ill.
The AMA President said a casual approach to keeping food safe was not a minor problem, with more than 5.4 million Australians suffering food poisoning every year.
Dr Hambleton said the consequences of food poisoning could be serious and, in some cases, life-threatening.
“Symptoms can be quite nasty, ranging from nausea, stomach cramps, diarrhoea, fever and headaches to serious vomiting and dehydration requiring hospitalisation,” the AMA President said.
To avoid the chance of food poisoning, he said people should minimise the amount of time food is kept at between 5 and 60 degrees Celsius, which is the temperature range considered most conducive to the development of harmful bacteria such as Salmonella.
“Hot food should be kept hot by keeping it on the stove top or in the oven turned down to just below 100OC before serving, and cold food should be kept cold by keeping it in the fridge before consuming,” Dr Hambleton said.
The AMA President said during hot weather people also needed to regularly check their refrigerators to make sure they were maintaining a temperature below 5 degrees Celsius.
Because summer is a time for entertaining, fridges often can become overloaded, and Dr Hambleton suggested some tips to ensure food was kept safe, including clearing out beer to make room for food (“lukewarm drinks can’t make you sick”), putting whole fruit or vegetables in a cupboard or bowl, and taking jars of pickles, chutneys and sauces that contain vinegar out (“they can survive for a couple of days without refrigeration”).
He said following just a few simple food handling rules would go a long way to ensuring safe eating for all, including making sure food preparation surfaces are clean; the different utensils are used for raw and cooked meat; that any leftovers are refrigerated immediately and consumed within three days; that poultry, minces, sausages and other prepared meats are cooked until they reach 75 degrees Celsius; and that perishable nibbles like dips and soft cheeses are left out of the fridge for too long before being eaten.
Adrian Rollins

Image by Loozrboy on Flickr, used under Creative Commons licence