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The costs of food-borne illness

The costs of food-borne illness

Food-borne illness is costing New Zealand at least $55 million a year and that’s possibly just the tip of the iceberg.

‘Keep it Cool’ is the theme of this year’s Foodsafe Week being held from 2 to 8 December. The week is organised by the New Zealand Foodsafe Partnership, a group of organisations with an interest in food safety.

New Zealand Food Safety Authority Executive Director Andrew McKenzie says its easy to avoid getting ill from food, especially in the home.

“Food-borne illness is caused by bacteria which multiply very fast on food in moist, warm conditions. Summer is an especially hazardous time for food-borne illness but handling food properly can stop the bacteria from making people sick,” Dr McKenzie said.

“There are approximately 119,000 cases of food-borne illness in New Zealand each year. About 40 percent of those cases are caused by incorrect food handling in the home. A couple of simple actions like washing your hands regularly and keeping food in the fridge can save people a lot of problems, not to mention a trip to the doctor or worse, hospital. The last thing people need this Summer is to make their friends and family sick. Safe food handling practises are vital in the home,” Dr McKenzie said.

“Maintaining your fridge properly is also important. It should be kept at a temperature of between 0 and 4 degrees Celcius and the seals should be in good condition.”

Dr McKenzie says there is a perception that food-borne illness is a minor tummy bug that causes a little discomfort and inconvenience.

“While this is true for a majority of cases, food-borne illness can also lead to death and in the case of listeriosis, spontaneous abortion.”

“You can’t put a price on a loss of life, but research suggests that food-borne illness is costing New Zealand $55 million a year in lost productivity, medical costs and other associated costs – that’s $462 per sick person. Scientists believe that figure is conservative and could climb to as high as approximately $90 million. That’s a waste of money when food-borne illness is so easy to avoid.”

The New Zealand Foodsafe Partnership promotes food safety messages to consumers with an emphasis on the 4Cs - clean, cook, cover, chill. Our messages are simple:

Clean hands before handling food. Wash knives and utensils and scrub chopping boards.

Cook chicken, meat patties and sausages thoroughly. Reheat leftovers till steaming hot.

Cover food. Store raw and cooked food separately.

Chill food. Use a chilly bin with a frozen chill pad when cooking and eating outdoors.

Other food safety tips include:

Always wash your hands before handling food, after handling raw meat and poultry, after going to the toilet, after changing nappies, handling pets or garden.

Defrost frozen food thoroughly before cooking.

Cool hot foods no longer than two hours before refrigerating.

Reheat leftovers until steaming hot throughout and do not reheat more than once.

Minced meat, sausages and poultry need to be cooked until juices run clear.

Pre-cook meat before barbecuing.

Keep cooked and raw meat separate.

Cover all foods before putting them in the fridge.

Keep raw meat and poultry covered and away from ready to eat cooked products, fruit and vegetables.

Store raw meats and poultry in the bottom of the fridge.

Don’t defrost food on the bench.

Keep food very hot or very cold.

Throw away food that has been kept at room temperature for more than two hours.

The New Zealand Foodsafe Partnership was set up in 1998 with a small group of representatives from the food industry, consumer groups, public health groups, MAF Food (now the New Zealand Food Safety Authority) and the Ministry of Health, to promote consistent and appropriate food safety messages to New Zealand consumers.

It was formed as a result of concern about high levels of food-borne illness in New Zealand and recognition that no matter how much care is taken to produce safe food, food handling by consumers at home plays a key role in preventing food-borne illness.

More information on safe food handling practices is available at http:// or http:// .

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