Each year, Australians experience 4.1 million cases of food poisoning – and as anyone who has spent a night on the bathroom floor clutching their belly can tell you, it’s not a fun thing to go through.

Australian Food Safety Week is an initiative of the Food Safety Information Council, with the aim of spreading awareness of important food safety practices that can help reduce your chances of getting sick from contaminated food.

How long can food be left out for?

A recent survey showed that 22% of Australians believe it’s safe to leave cooked rice out of the fridge for up to six hours or overnight – or even that it doesn’t need to be refrigerated at all.

“This just isn’t true,” says Dr Michael Eyles, Food Safety Information Council Chair. “Spores from the bacteria Bacillus cereus can survive the cooking process and once the rice begins to cool, they can grow and form a heat resistant toxin. This toxin is not destroyed by further reheating, with only very small amounts needed to make you sick.”

As a general guideline, if perishable food has been left out for...

  • 1-2 hours – Use immediately, or transfer to the fridge, freezer or oven.
  • 2-4 hours – Use immediately.
  • More than 4 hours – Throw it out.

The Temperature Danger Zone

Food poisoning bacteria can live and grow rapidly in foods that are left out in temperatures between 5°C and 60°C, a range known as the Temperature Danger Zone. To keep food safe, you should minimise the amount of time it spends at these temperatures. This means when you’re keeping or storing perishable food, cold food should be kept at 5°C or below, while hot food should be kept at 60°C or above.

Tips for storing food safely

To keep your food out of the Temperature Danger Zone, The Food Safety Information Council suggests the following tips…

1. Plan ahead. Be careful not to prepare too much food – the more you cook, the harder it is to keep at the right temperature for safely eating later. Planning ahead when catering for a large number of people will help you to prepare food as closely as you can to the time it will be served.

2. Keep your fridge at or below 5°C . Check your fridge thermometer to make sure the temperature stays around 4-5 °C. Try to keep enough room in the fridge, as the cold air can’t circulate as well if the fridge is tightly packed with food.

3. Check the storage instructions . The label on packaged foods will tell you if it needs to be stored in the fridge or the freezer, so make sure you check. Note that many unrefrigerated items may need to be refrigerated once opened.

4. Keep hot food at or over 60°C. If you’re keeping food warm for someone to eat later, place it in the oven at 60°C (or at 100°C if that is as low as your oven will go).

5. Divide food up to cool. Any food you cook that won’t be consumed immediately should be cooled as quickly as possible. As soon as it stops steaming, divide into small portions and store in containers in the fridge or freezer.

6. Keep food cool on the move. Use a cooler bag to transport perishable food (eg refrigerated or frozen shopping, lunches, or goodies for a BBQ or a picnic) or add a frozen block or drink to keep things cool.

7. If in doubt, throw it out. The easiest rule of thumb. if perishable food has been in the temperature danger zone for 2-4 hours, consume it immediately. After four hours, throw it out.

Find out more at foodsafety.asn.au

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