health

The summer barbecue and its leftovers: What's safe and what's not?

Queensland Government
Thanks to our brand partner, Queensland Government

Recently, I found myself kneeling on the bathroom floor, with my head hovering over a toilet bowl, violently ill with Salmonella poisoning.

It was, by far, the worst I’ve ever felt, and it came with nausea so intense and stomach cramps so excruciating, that I wouldn’t wish the experience on my worst enemy.

I spent the ensuing four or five days, where I was unable to move/watch Netflix/eat, haunted by a five word question: WHAT. DID. THIS. TO. ME?

Since, I’ve been obsessed with food safety, doing everything in my power to ensure I never, ever get that sick again.

One thing that often causes food poisoning is leftovers. And with all the summer barbecues, picnics and Christmas lunches we’re having at the moment, it’s even more front of mind.

It can be particularly tricky when the weather’s warm and in humid places like Queensland. So, after trawling the Queensland Government’s Feel Good Facts website, I’ve narrowed down the best food safety tips for summer that we all should know to avoid hanging out with the toilet bowl more than we need to.

Never wash raw chicken.

Never.

Washing chicken before cooking increases the likelihood of food poisoning, as splashing water can contaminate surfaces, clothing, cooking equipment, other food and your hands.

The risk of food poisoning comes from something called campylobacter bacteria, and campylobacter poisoning causes stomach pain, diarrhoea and vomiting for two to five days.

So, wash your hands before and after handling the chicken, and use separate chopping boards and utensils so bacteria doesn’t spread to other food around it.

Don't wash raw chicken. Image via Getty.
Don't wash raw chicken. Image via Getty.

Never wash eggs before cracking them.

What you might not know, is that eggshells are actually porous, meaning they can carry things like chicken poo or dirt. Washing them increases the likelihood of harmful bacteria making its way inside the egg - which you definitely do not want.

Make sure your eggs are always stored in the fridge, along with any products made with raw eggs, like mayonnaise.

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Also ensure that you cook eggs thoroughly.

What's the deal with defrosting?

If you're preparing food that's been in the freezer (like a turkey for Christmas lunch) then here's the rule of thumb.

Don't defrost something by placing it on the bench.

There's something called the 'temperature danger zone', and that's any food that sits in temperatures between five and 60 degrees Celcius. If food sits in this danger zone for more than four hours, then it's unsafe and needs to be chucked out.

By placing food in that environment, it allows bacteria to grow, which can make you sick.

The solution is simple. Just make sure if your food needs defrosting, then you place it in the fridge, ideally on the bottom shelf on a plate so that the juices don't go spilling onto other food. For the Christmas turkey this may take two or three days, so make sure you allow enough time.

Ensure your fridge is set to five degrees or cooler, and always remember that hot food should be kept hot (60 degrees plus), and cold food should be kept cold (five degrees or cooler).

How do I transport food when it's so hot outside?

It can be difficult to bring food from the fridge to an event (on Christmas Day for example), so best practice is always to place food in an esky or insulated bag with ice.

It's critical hot food is cooked thoroughly.

If you're taking leftovers home, then reheat food till it's steaming hot. Make sure to put leftovers in the fridge as soon as the food stops steaming and keep for no longer than 48 hours. Salads with raw egg, like mayonnaise or aioli, should be thrown out after 24 hours.

It's also important to store any raw meat or seafood in a container, so that it's separate from other food. Raw and cooked food should not come into contact with each other, as this could lead to cross contamination of harmful bacteria.

Make sure your containers have a leak-proof lid, as spillage can also spread bacteria. And you really, really don't want that.

Can I reheat leftovers... more than once?

Nope. Bad idea.

Leftovers can only be reheated once, and until they're steaming hot.

When it comes to chicken, see if there's any pink meat around its thickest part. If you can't, then it's good to eat.

If in doubt, throw it out

Often you can't tell by the smell, the look, or even the taste of food, if it's been contaminated by bacteria.

If you're not sure if it's been left out for more than four hours, or you think your esky might not have done such a great job at keeping it cool, then throw it out.

It's simply not worth the risk.

Trust me.

Do you know exactly how to be food safe in summer? Have you got any hacks or tricks?

For more helpful info on food safety this summer, visit Feel Good Facts.

This content was brought to you with thanks to our brand partner, Queensland Health.

Queensland Government

Feel Good Facts are fun-sized chunks of information giving tips on how to make the Queensland life feel even better all year-round. Find out more here.

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