Food safety advocates say these are key to safely bringing reusable containers to stores and avoiding food poisoning
In response to shoppers being able to ‘fill’ reusable food containers in supermarkets, Australian food safety advocates have issued safety advice to prevent spikes in food poisoning.
Each year, Australia has around 4.1 million cases of food poisoning each year, resulting in over 30,000 hospitalizations and an average of 86 deaths.
Coles, a major Australian supermarket chain, recently launched a plastic reduction campaign, which will see 12 ACT stores stop providing plastic bags for fresh produce on September 14, while eight stores in South Australia will allow shoppers to bring their own plastic containers to fill with deli meats.
This prompted Australia’s Food Safety Information Council to issue safety guidelines for shoppers to avoid contamination from pathogens between store and home.
Chief among its guidelines is that people should use reusable plastics that are easy to clean and adhere to safe time limits for consuming “leftovers”.
“We support reducing single-use plastics, but not at the expense of increasing cases of food poisoning,” council chair Cathy Moir said.
Food poisoning is preventable
Food poisoning occurs when pathogens such as bacteria and viruses enter our body through ingestion.
Bacteria can grow in food. These are sometimes benign, like the “good” bacteria intrinsic to the fermentation of certain products such as yoghurts and cheeses. Other bacteria like Salmonella, Campylobacter and E. coli can have dangerous effects on the body.
Likewise, some pathogens produce toxins that are harmful to ingest.
While bacteria and viruses can take a fatal blow from heating up, the heat-stable toxins they produce can withstand high temperatures. Other chemicals can also end up in food products purchased from retailers.
Read more: 11 tips to avoid food poisoning
One way to avoid this is to keep stored food safe.
Food Standards Australia, the Australian government authority that regulates and monitors food, states that raw and cooked meats, dairy products, seafood, processed fruits and vegetables, cooked rice and pasta, and processed foods Protein-rich foods containing eggs, beans, or nuts (like quiche or soy products) are all potentially dangerous if stored improperly.
This recommended proper temperature control as a means of preventing spoilage and contamination, including keeping hot foods at 60°C and above, keeping cold foods below 5°C and ensuring that hot foods intended for to be reused are cooled to less than five degrees as quickly as possible.
For safe food storage, it is essential to keep produce separate, in sealed containers. The tips issued by the Food Safety Information Council includes:
Keep it easy to wash
Containers should be easy to clean with hot water and detergent between uses. Some take-out plastic containers are single-use and not suitable for continuous use.
Have an airtight lid
Sealable lids prevent leaks, which is important to avoid cross-contamination that can occur from dripping raw meat.
Rinse fruits and vegetables before use
Fruits and vegetables that will not be cooked before consumption should be stored in bags that act as barriers to prevent cross-contamination. These should be washed before eating.
Be food safe with your leftovers
The Food Safety Information Council recommends that leftovers be refrigerated within two hours and suggests leftovers will last between two and three days in the refrigerator. He also recommends reheating to 75°C or using the automatic microwave reheat feature to kill pathogens.
Do not use old plastics
Cracks, breaks and damage to plastic can allow pathogens to jump onto food in containers, plastic shards can also be inadvertently eaten.