Five of the biggest food hygiene fails

Living Well | Sue Hewitt | Posted on 01 July 2020

Don’t make these common food hygiene mistakes when getting back to basics. 

As many of us are getting back to basics, pickling our own vegetables, making kombucha and using eggs laid by our newly installed backyard chooks, food experts warn that people should take care to avoid food poisoning. 

The Food Safety Information Council’s chair Cathy Moir says a recent Omnipoll survey shows 43 per cent of Australian adults are spending more time cooking or preparing meals, and 53 per cent are trying new recipes. Sales of live chickens for backyard coops have also soared.

“It’s great to see people preparing more food and trying new recipes, especially if they are getting their kids more interested in cooking,” she says. “But there are some trends that could be concerning from a food-safety point of view.”

Two jars of pickles

Here are Cathy’s five safety tips for home foods

Backyard chooks

The danger

It’s great to have fresh eggs and for your kids to learn about where their food comes from, but backyard chooks and ducks and their eggs have been associated with salmonella infections in people. 

What to do

Make sure you and your children wash your hands after handling poultry or cleaning their pen.

Eggs can be a source of salmonella. To minimise the risk, keep the nesting materials and litter clean and dry and change it regularly. Gather eggs daily. Carefully check all eggs and throw them out if they’re cracked or excessively dirty. 

Wipe off any visible dirt with a dry cloth or paper towel but don’t wash the eggs in water – this can transfer any contamination inside the egg. Always wash your hands after collecting eggs and don’t use the eggs in raw-egg dishes like mayonnaise.

Pickling vegetables

The danger

Making pickles, relishes and chutneys is something that people have been doing for generations, using salt, vinegar, sugar, spices and water to preserve food in jars. But to avoid food poisoning, make sure you follow a reliable recipe and store the food in properly sterilised jars. 

What to do

Before you start, ensure jars are scrupulously clean and sterilised. The easiest way is to put the jars, lids and any seals in the dishwasher and run the cycle on hot. Alternatively put the clean jars in an oven heated to 120 degrees Celsius for 20 minutes or put in a large saucepan covered with cold water and bring to the boil, then boil for 10 minutes before draining and drying. 

When pickling foods, use Australian recipes where possible, as overseas recipes will use US and European vinegars which may be stronger than ours. It’s important to get the right amount of acidity to ensure the food is properly preserved.

Vegetables should be placed in a jar, topped up with vinegar or a vinegar mixture containing at least 50 per cent vinegar, then stored in the fridge. 

Chutneys and relishes can be poured straight from the pot at a temperature greater than 85 degrees Celsius into still-warm jars. Seal, then invert jars to sterilise the lid. 

Homemade cleaning products sitting on kitchen bench
Three chicken on the grass
A person with a jar of pickles

Preserving vegetables in oil

The danger

When preserving vegetables and herbs in oil it’s important to get the recipe right to prevent the growth of dangerous bacteria such as Clostridium botulinum which causes botulism.

What to do

Vegetables and any fresh herbs should be soaked in vinegar overnight with a ratio of 300 grams of vegetables and herbs to 100 millilitres of vinegar. This ratio should provide a sufficient level of acidity to control botulism.

Drain the liquid, then add oil. Jars are best stored in the fridge to minimise the risk of spoilage.  

Dried vegetables, herbs and spices can be safely added to oil without soaking in vinegar, and then stored at room temperature.

Fermented food

The danger

If you fancy trying to make fermented food like kefir, kimchi, kombucha or homemade yoghurt, remember you must take care to avoid food poisoning.

What to do

Follow good hygiene practices and use clean containers to avoid food poisoning and stop food-spoiling bacteria growing during fermentation. 

A commercial starter culture is recommended, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions including fermenting at the recommended temperature. Use a new starter culture for each batch and don’t be tempted to ‘backwash’ a starter culture from an existing batch to make a new one as you could transfer undesirable micro-organisms. 

Only use pasteurised milk for fermented dairy foods and never try to make your own fermented meats at home as this is far too risky.

And lastly, keep it clean

The danger

Transferring germs from dirty surfaces to food.

What to do

Before you start any food preparation wipe down kitchen surfaces using detergent and warm water to remove surface dirt. Then, if necessary, sanitise the surface with a household disinfectant or diluted bleach. Always follow the instructions on the product label about how it should be used, including how much it should be diluted, what types of surfaces it can be used on, and whether it needs to be left on the surface for a certain amount of time. 

Don’t mix different types of cleaning product as they may create fumes that can make you ill. Keep all cleaning products and hand sanitisers out of reach of children. After cleaning surfaces wash your hands with soap for 20 seconds and dry them thoroughly.