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Pack away those food safety troubles

January 12 2005

Pack away those food safety troubles

Packing up an impromptu picnic and heading for the beach or park may be a favourite way to keep the children entertained now that the sun has begun to shine, but pack it safely and you’ll avoid a whole load of food-related illnesses in your hamper.

Recycled plastic water bottles, old margarine containers and supermarket plastic bags may seem just what you need for transporting sandwiches, lemonade, chicken legs and trifle. But just because they look like suitable food containers doesn’t make them safe for food.

Many can be difficult to clean (they have edges that curl over and collect bacteria), and may be made from materials not intended for repeated use or repeated cleaning with soap and hot water. Often these containers are developed for specific types and temperatures of foods and may not stand up to some foods, particularly those high in acid or hot foods.

Remember: if a product isn’t sold to hold food, don’t use it for that purpose: swap that plastic film canister for a purpose-made food storage container instead. Follow these simple rules from the New Zealand Food Safety Authority, and make sure you enjoy a foodsafe summer.

Plastic water and soft drink bottles are intended to be used only once then put in your recycling bin – they can harbour germs as bacteria in your mouth or from unwashed hands will easily contaminate them. These bacteria may multiply in the water and cause gastroenteritis. If you want to use these bottles, ensure yours is free of any damage or dents (particularly the nozzle), has been thoroughly cleaned before each use (and left to air-dry) , and is filled with clean tap water.

Remember, too, water or soft-drink bottles shouldn’t be shared – they should be used by one individual only to prevent the spread of germs.

Other food items that should not be used more than once include plastic wrap, foam meat trays, and takeaway food containers. Bacteria from foods once held in these containers could remain on the packaging despite cleaning, and so contaminate other foods.

Wooden ice-block sticks, and shish kebab sticks should also be thrown away after one use.

Glass jars – if cleaned with hot, soapy water and sterilised in the oven, can be used again but pay particular attention to their lids. Those with non-cleanable liners, such as waxed cardboard, should not be re-used.

And if you’re storing food in the chilly bin, use only freezer bags made especially for the purpose. Plastic shopping bags are not made from food-grade plastic and chemicals from them may leach into the food.

If you want to re-use a plastic bottle:

before filling, wash and dry your hands thoroughly, so that you don’t contaminate it with bacteria examine the bottle to ensure it has not been damaged after use, clean bottles and nozzles with hot, soapy water and make sure the inside of the bottle is left to air-dry completely before using again use good-quality water from a safe source Remember, bottles should be used by one individual only. Don’t share bottles – saliva can transfer germs. Make sure they are labelled with the person’s name for easy identification.

There is more information on how to safely handle and store food on the New Zealand Foodsafe Partnership website at and on the NZFSA website at:


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