Christmas Day 2014 marked a bad day for one family in Victoria - around 30 people ate lunch and then ended up with food poisoning. At least one of them also had to go to hospital as well.
According to the latest figures, there are around 4.1 million cases of food poisoning in Australia each year and we really only know the cause of about 800,000 of them.
There are many bacteria found in food that can make you sick. Some are well known by the public, like Salmonella, E.coli and Golden Staph. The main cause of bacterial food poisoning in Australia is actually a bacteria called Campylobacter jejuni, and most people do not even know it exists.
There are more than 2000 species of salmonella, and of these about 250 will make humans sick, and it is this group that most immediately blame when they get sick from food poisoning.
It is also interesting to know that you can only tell if you actually have food poisoning and not some other cause of "gastro", by having both the food you have eaten and any deposits you are making tested. If the results come back showing the same bacteria, then there is a good chance that you have food poisoning.
Another interesting fact is that there are two ways that bacteria can cause food poisoning , there are the bacteria that make you sick through sheer numbers (like Salmonella) and then there are the ones that only need a small number because they produce toxins that cause the illness.
It is also important to remember that there is no way that you can tell if a normal looking food has a high level of food poisoning bacteria that can make you sick if you eat it. Obviously we know not to eat foods that are mouldy (except those that are meant to be) or bubbling or gassy when not hot. We don't have vision that can see the bacteria, so we have to rely on the food being handled correctly and good hygiene to prevent the bacteria from growing to a level that will cause us harm.
Bacteria grow best at room temperature, so keeping food below 5C or above 60C will either slow them down or even kill them.
Don't use food after the use by date - if you do, the amount of potentially dangerous bacteria in the food is likely to be so high that it will make anyone who eats it sick.
The best way to prevent you and your family / friends becoming like the family in Victoria on Christmas Day is to ;
- Always keep hot food hot - steaming bubbling hot
- Always keep cold food cold - less than 5C
- Use eskies to transport hot and cold food
- Don't use food after it's Use by Date
- Don't put cooked food onto a plate / container that has held raw food
- Put out only a little food and then replace it often
- Keep all surfaces in contact with food clean
- Make sure you wash your hands before and during the handling of food
- Only use food from reputable suppliers
- One set of tongs or spoon per food type - don't mix them.
Beside making sure that temperatures are controlled, the big thing to do to protect your famil and friends from food poisoning at your next party of gathering is good hygiene.
For more information about good hygiene practices, why not pick up a copy of "The Hygiene Handbook" at http://www.howsafeisyourfood.com.au/shop/ebooks/the-hygiene-handbook/