Food safety advocates say these things are essential for safely bringing reusable containers to the shops and avoiding food poisoning

In response to shoppers being able to ‘fill-up’ reusable food containers at supermarkets, Australia’s food safety advocates have issued safety advice to prevent spikes in food poisoning.

Each year Australia has an estimated 4.1 million cases of food poisoning each year, leading to more than 30,000 hospitalisations and an average of 86 deaths.

Coles, a major Australian supermarket chain, launched a plastics-reduction campaign recently, which will see 12 shops in the ACT no longer provide plastic bags for fresh produce on September 14, while eight stores in South Australia will allow shoppers to bring their own plastic containers to fill-up with deli products.

That’s prompted Australia’s Food Safety Information Council to issue safety guidelines to enable shoppers to avoid pathogen contamination between store and home.

Chief among it’s guidelines is that people should use  easy-to-clean reusable plastics, and adherence to safe timeframes to consume ‘leftovers.’

“We support the reduction of singe use plastics but not at the expense of increasing the number of cases of food poisoning,” says council chair Cathy Moir.

Food poisoning is avoidable

Food poisoning occurs when pathogens like bacteria and viruses enter our bodies through ingestion.

Bacteria can grow in food. Sometimes these are benign – like the ‘good’ bacteria intrinsic in the fermentation of certain products like yoghurts and cheeses. Other bacteria like salmonella, Campylobacter and E. coli can have dangerous effects on the body.

Similarly, some pathogens produce toxins that are harmful to ingest.

While bacteria and viruses might be dealt a killer blow by reheating, heat-stable toxins they produce can withstand hot temperatures. Other chemicals can also find their way into food products purchased from retailers.

Read more: 11 tips to avoid food poisoning

One way to prevent this is to keep food stored safety.

Food Standards Australia, the Australian government authority which regulates and monitors food, says raw and cooked meats, dairy, seafood products, processed fruit and vegetables, cooked rice and pasta, and processed protein-rich foods containing eggs, beans, or nuts (like quiche or soy products) are all potentially hazardous if incorrectly kept.

It recommends correct temperature control as a means to prevent spoilage and contamination, including keeping hot food at 60°C and above, storing cold food below 5°C, and making sure hot foods intended for reuse are cooled to below five degrees as quickly as possible.

Essential to safe food storage is keeping products separate, in sealed containers. The advice issued by the Food Safety Information Council includes:

Keep it easy to wash

Containers should be easy to clean with hot water and detergent between uses. Some plastic takeaway containers are single-use only and unsuitable for ongoing use.

Have a sealable lid

Sealable lids prevent leakage, which is important to prevent cross-contamination that may occur from raw meat dripping.

Rinse fruit and vegetables before use

Fruit and vegetables that won’t be cooked before eating should be kept in bags which act as barriers to prevent cross-contamination. These should be washed before eating.

Be food safe with your leftovers

The Food Safety Information Council recommends leftovers be refrigerated within two hours, and suggests leftovers will last between two and three days in the fridge. It also recommends reheating to 75°C or using the microwave reheat auto function to kill pathogens.

Don’t use old plastics

Cracks, breaks and damage to plastic can allow pathogens to jump onto food contained within containers, plastic shards may also be inadvertently consumed as well.

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