For many Australians, Australia Day means enjoying a barbecue, fresh prawns and lamingtons. But care needs to be taken when preparing these foods as they can all become a food safety hazard under certain conditions.
Follow our handy tips below to keep you and your family safe this Australia Day.
The two main risk factors from barbecues are undercooked meat and the spread of pathogens from raw meat onto ready-to-eat foods.
Raw meat can contain pathogens such as salmonella, E.coli and listeria. Luckily all of these pathogens are killed by cooking meat thoroughly which is why you need to take extra care at your Australia Day barbecue.
To ensure the meat you prepare is safe to eat, we've prepared a list of our top ten tips for ensuring barbecue food safety:
- Defrost meat thoroughly before cooking. Use the refrigerator or the defrost setting on the microwave to do this - never defrost meat at room temperature or on a tray or plate next to the barbecue
- Keep raw meat chilled in the refrigerator or an esky until just before it's time to cook it
- Clean your barbecue before use - this is especially important if you haven't used it for a while. Scrub it with bicarbonate of soda followed by a good rinse in warm, soapy water for the best results
- Keep raw meat well away from any ready-to-eat foods such as salads, sauces and burger buns
- Light the barbecue well in advance and ensure it's hot before placing any meat onto it. For charcoal barbecues, the flames should have died down well before you start cooking
- Turn the meat regularly when you're cooking to ensure it's cooked evenly throughout
- When you think the meat's cooked, cut into it to ensure it's cooked right through and that juices run clear. This is especially important with foods made of minced meat such as sausages and burgers where bacteria from the outside of the meat may have been transferred throughout the rest of the meat during the mincing process
- Consider pre-cooking food in a grill or oven - especially chicken and pork products - before giving it a 'final finish' on the barbecue. This gives the meat the distinct 'barbecue taste' without compromising on food safety
- Always use different plates and utensils for raw meat and cooked meat
- If you're saving barbecued meat to eat later be sure to refrigerate it within 2 hours of cooking, otherwise throw it out
Of course, as a food safety organisation, we always recommend buying a thermometer to check the temperature of food. You can pick these up for just a few dollars from any kitchen or hospitality store - a small price to keep to pay to keep your loved ones safe this Australia Day.
Prawns provide an excellent breeding ground for bacteria, especially if eaten chilled.
Thankfully there are some steps you can take to prevent getting food poisoning from prawns - to ensure prawn safety follow the rules below:
- Always buy prawns from a reputable, registered seafood supplier
- When buying prawns check that they're visibly fresh and that they're displayed chilled. If you're buying raw prawns check that there's no blackening around the head or legs, and that they have a pleasant 'fresh sea' smell
- Store seafood in a covered container on a low shelf of the refrigerator where the flesh and juices can't touch any other food items
- Keep prawns in their shells until just before use - this makes it more difficult for harmful pathogens to reach and spread through the prawn meat
- Consume prawns as soon as possible after purchase - ideally on the same day. Prawns can be kept for a maximum of 3 days in a home refrigerator
- If you're cooking prawns, ensure that raw prawns don't come into contact with any ready-to-eat foods or pre-cooked items
- Always wash your hands after handling raw prawns. Harmful pathogens can be transferred from the prawns onto your hands which can then be passed onto other food items
- If you're serving chilled prawns, try to serve them on a bed of ice to keep the temperature cool
- Use different plates and utensils for raw and cooked prawns
- Throw out any raw or cooked prawns that have been outside of the refrigerator for more than 2 hours
Don't forget that shellfish can cause severe allergic reactions in some people and in some cases can even lead to death. Always check for dietary requirements of guests and be sure to keep shellfish well away from other types of food.
Out of all the Australia Day foods listed, lamingtons are considered the safest on the list. Due to their high sugar content, they don't provide a good environment for bacteria to grow.
However, that doesn't mean there's no food safety threat. If you're preparing lamingtons from scratch, don't be tempted to eat any of the raw cake mix that doesn't make it into the oven. Lamingtons contain raw eggs which can harbour dangerous levels of salmonella - making raw cake mix a high risk food.
And be careful where you place that plate of lamingtons - too close to raw meats or high risk products and you could be transferring dangerous bacteria onto these ready-to-eat items.
Whatever you're doing this Australia Day, enjoy the long weekend and stay food safe!