20 December 2023

People celebrating the festive season are being reminded of simple measures to ensure food stays safe to eat this summer as temperatures heat up.

NSW Health’s Director in Health Protection NSW Keira Glasgow said the warmer weather and buffet-style eating at holiday events can create the perfect environment for the bacteria that cause food poisoning to grow.

“As the weather heats up, so does the risk of food poisoning. Each year around Christmas we see a rise in hospital presentations of acute vomiting and diarrhoea caused by accidental food poisoning,” Ms Glasgow said.

“Most people know it is important to wash your hands thoroughly after touching raw meats and eggs because unclean hands can carry germs from these items to the food.

“What many people don’t know is how often eating contaminated raw foods themselves cause outbreaks. If the food you are preparing has been grown in soil, then it needs to be washed and dried before eating. If you have a weakened immune system, take extra care to ensure it is washed thoroughly.

“Don’t leave food which needs to refrigerated out for more than two hours. If it has been out for longer or in warm conditions, it should be thrown away. The longer food is left out of the fridge, the faster bacteria will grow and multiply.

“This is particularly important to remember over Christmas when the weather is warm, and food is left out for people to graze on throughout the day.

“Food poisoning can be caused by many different pathogens, including Salmonella, Campylobacter and E Coli. Food poisoning can also occur when food is prepared by a person who has or has very recently recovered from gastro.

“If you’ve been unwell in the days before your food preparation begins, please pass the cooking responsibilities onto someone else this year.”

Symptoms of food poisoning include fever, headache, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. These usually occur about 1-3 days after eating the contaminated food, depending on what bug or toxin was present. Symptoms can last from as little as six hours to several days.

Most people recover from food poisoning by resting and drinking plenty of fluids, however those who are immunocompromised, infants and the elderly can experience worsened symptoms and risk developing a more serious infection.

There are a few simple food safety tips to keep yourself and your loved ones safe, including:

  • Bring insulated bags to the supermarket to help keep your food cool for the journey from the store to your fridge.
  • Store raw foods (such as meat) in sealed containers in the bottom of the fridge or freezer to stop fluid dripping or spilling onto other food.
  • Cover all foods in the refrigerator and freezer to protect them from cross contamination.
  • Use different chopping boards, trays, utensils, and plates when preparing raw foods, especially meat, and ready to eat food.
  • Thaw frozen food in the fridge, not on the bench as bacteria grows best between the temperatures of five and 60 degrees Celsius. Once cooked, keep hot food above 60 degrees Celsius.
  • Wash and dry fruit and vegetables thoroughly ensuring they are dirt free.
  • Don’t pour raw meat juices from marinades onto cooked food.
  • Wash hands with soap immediately after handling raw foods and before handling cooked or ready-to-eat food. This includes raw eggs and the raw meat packaging (which may be contaminated on the outside).
  • Don’t prepare food for others if you’ve had symptoms of gastroenteritis until 48 hours after symptoms have passed.

For further information refer to the NSW Health Salmonellosis fact sheet.