With the tragic news announcement this week that Aussies, Noelene Bischoff, 54 and her 14-year-old daughter, Yvana died from a combination of food-poisoning and pre-existing medical conditions. That got us thinking about the prevalence and risks associated with food, preparation and food-poisoning.

According to statistics from the Food Standards of Australia and New Zealand, the number of food poisoning cases in Australia is estimated at around 5.4 million annually, with 11,500 new cases daily, and results in around 120 deaths a year.

Global data show that around the world, an estimated 1.8 million people die each year from diarrhoeal diseases, contracted from food poisoning or water-borne pathogens.

These are pretty shocking numbers, right?

So, what actually causes food poisoning?

There are certain types of microorganisms that can make people quite sick, including bad bacteria, viruses and parasites. These microorganisms are transferred to foods in lots different ways, but generally come from infected food handlers, soil and dirt, or from animal faeces.

Some of the most common bacterial causes of food poisoning in Australia include Campylobacter, which infects the intestine, and Salmonella typhimurim, which leads to salmonella poisoning.

Viruses that lead to food poisoning are harder to define. They often are transmitted to foods through faces, sewerage or by sick food handlers. Some common food viruses include hepatitis a and norovirus.

Parasites that lead to food poisoning are a little less common and occur in animal faeces. They also latch on and contaminate meat during the slaughtering process, while the affect fruits and vegetables grown in contaminated faeces.

What can you do to prevent food poisoning?

There are steps that you can take in order to try and prevent food poisoning – here are a few tips that can definitely help:

  1. Make sure your meat is always cooked properly – ground beef should be cooked until it’s around 72 degrees Celcius, while fish, steaks and roasts should be cooked to 62 degrees Celcius. Chicken or turkey should be cooked to 75 degrees Celcius.
  2. If you are ever served undercooked meat at a restaurant, don’t be afraid to send it back and ask for a new plate.
  3. If you are ever unsure of where food has come from, or uncomfortable as to where it has been – don’t taste it to make sure if it is okay or not – just throw it out.
  4. Wash all produce including fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating them, even if you plan to peel it.
  5. Always wash your hands – if you are ever going to handle meats, eggs, poultry, vegetable or seafood, scrub your hands with warm, soapy water to stop bacteria from spreading.
  6. Always wash any knives, cutting boards, or other hard surfaces that the meat has touched with hot soapy water, to avoid the spread of bacteria.
  7. When thawing meats, do not thaw them at room temperature. Instead thaw in the fridge, at a temperature below 4 degrees Celcius, or by using your microwaves defrost setting – don’t refreeze any foods you have already defrosted.
  8. And, keep any raw food separate from ready-to-eat foods. This will prevent any potential contamination.

Take care when you are preparing food, and if you ever have any queries or questions about how well cooked your food is at a restaurant, don’t hesitate to ask – asking might just save you from getting sick.