Seasonal Food Safety Concerns in Australia: A Summer Guide

Essential food safety practices to protect everyone from food-borne illnesses this summer
Pavlova in front of a christmas tree
December 18, 2023

As the summer season sweeps in, Australian kitchens are busier than ever. All the festive favourites are on the menu as friends and family come together to celebrate. Whether it’s turkey and stuffing, barbecued prawns or a pavlova dessert, the safe preparation of food should not be overlooked, no matter how hectic things get.

This comprehensive guide will provide tips for avoiding common food-handling mistakes this summer. Let’s begin by better understanding the importance of food safety procedures during the Christmas period.

The Importance of Summertime Food Safety

In Australia, summer is synonymous with pool parties, barbecues on the beach and festive feasts. However, it’s also a time of year when food-borne illnesses can come along and ruin the fun. Large gatherings, extensive meal preparation and extreme weather conditions can all contribute to the problem, making it critical that the best food safety practices are in place throughout the season.

Summer Food Safety Risks

Extreme Weather Conditions

Australia is no stranger to extreme heat and thunderstorms during the summer months, but that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with when it comes to storing, handling and preparing food. However, prompt storage, regular temperature monitoring, and emergency preparedness can all help mitigate the risks associated with unfavourable weather conditions.

Catering for Large Groups

Seasonal social gatherings typically involve large quantities of food, making meal preparation incredibly challenging. Cooking food evenly, maintaining safe temperatures and avoiding cross-contamination are all part of the balancing act. Fortunately, batch-cooking techniques, clever storage methods and food thermometers can all be used to good effect when catering for big get-togethers.

Raw Ingredients and High-Risk Foods

Festive foods such as turkey and prawns are considered high-risk due to their susceptibility to harmful pathogens. Improper handling of these foods can result in food-borne illnesses, either caused directly or through cross-contamination.
Another popular summer dish, pavlova, can present issues because raw egg whites are used in its preparation. Unless adequate steps are taken to prevent contamination, salmonella poisoning can occur.

Frozen Foods

With space in the refrigerator at a premium during the summer season, Australians will generally become more reliant on their freezers when it comes to fresh food storage at this time of year. Safe defrosting is critical for preventing the growth of harmful pathogens.

Summer Food Safety Tips

1. Safe Food Storage

Large summer gatherings often result in a fridge full of leftovers. If you want to save them for later, safe storage is a must. Perishable meat, poultry, and dairy products must be placed promptly in a refrigerator or freezer, especially on hot days when ambient temperatures may be higher. 

To prevent the development of harmful pathogens, refrigerators must be fully operational, maintaining a temperature of 5°C or lower. Freezers need to be running at -18°C or below. Remember, hot weather can increase the strain on appliances, so be sure to check running temperatures at regular intervals and adjust settings accordingly.

In addition to maintaining appropriate storage temperatures, food-grade wraps, foils and containers should be used to segregate and preserve food items. Be sure to label these items and keep track of their expiry dates; ideally, leftovers should be eaten within three to four days. If you're uncertain about how long a product will keep in the fridge, you can store it in the freezer instead.

2. Preparing for Power Outages 

Summer storms can lead to flooding and power outages, both of which can jeopardise the safe storage of food. Being prepared for such situations is critical. Common practices include using ice packs for refrigeration and grouping items in the freezer to keep them colder for longer.

Following a power outage, evaluating the safety of the food stored in your refrigerator and freezer is crucial. Current food temperature and duration of exposure should both be taken into account when determining which items should be kept and which should be disposed of.

3. Cooking and Reheating

Ensuring food is cooked and reheated to the right temperature is crucial for eliminating potentially harmful pathogens. Cooking in smaller batches can help you manage this process more effectively, but it's also essential to use a food thermometer to check that each dish reaches a safe internal temperature of 75°C or higher.

When reheating leftovers in a microwave, stir food periodically so it heats evenly. It's best to heat sauces and gravies separately from other parts of your meal, and frozen items must be fully defrosted before reheating them to the required temperature. Avoid partially heating leftovers and then putting them back in the fridge, as this can increase the risk of food-borne illnesses.

4. Preparing High-Risk Foods

Raw meat, seafood, poultry, and eggs will likely be in the kitchen at Christmas time. These ingredients are particularly prone to harmful pathogens and can lead to cross-contamination and food-borne illnesses if handled incorrectly,

It's essential to keep raw and cooked items separate during storage and preparation to minimise the risk of cross-contamination. Hand washing should be thorough, and all tools and surfaces must be properly cleaned and sanitised when switching tasks. You could also follow procedures adopted by professional cooks, such as using dedicated chopping boards, knives and utensils for different food types.

5. Defrosting

Defrosting is a crucial phase in the food preparation process, with various methods available, such as cold water thawing, microwaving, and refrigeration. Your choice of defrosting method will depend on the food type and time available. It’s vital to plan your defrosting in advance, especially for larger items like turkeys and beef joints, which take a long time to defrost safely in a refrigerator.

Summer Food Safety in Commercial Kitchens

Online training programs are an effective way for commercial kitchens to ensure food handling procedures meet the requirements of food safety laws and regulations. The certification of designated Food Safety Supervisors can come under particular scrutiny during the busy summer months, so food establishments must keep on top of staff training.

Food Safety Supervisor Training

The Australian Institute of Food Safety (AIFS) delivers an online Food Safety Supervisor course aligned with Australian food safety legislation requirements. The government-approved curriculum provides participants with all the knowledge and expertise they need to successfully oversee food safety procedures in their workplace, covering key topics such as personal hygiene, temperature control and allergen management.

Food Handler Training

The AIFS Food Handler course encompasses the fundamental principles of food safety, including many of those outlined in this article. The interactive course content gives individuals an enhanced understanding of the food handling standards required within a commercial food establishment, ensuring compliance with regulations imposed by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ).

Enrol Today

Food safety training plays a pivotal role in preserving the health and well-being of consumers over the festive season and beyond. It doesn’t need to distract you from the day-to-day operations of your business, either. Both of the courses mentioned above can be completed online, offering a quick and convenient training solution that allows you to stay focused on serving up delightful dining experiences for your customers during the busy summer months.

Ready to embrace summer with confidence? Enrol with AIFS today or get in touch to discover how professional food safety training can help protect customers and keep your business running smoothly this Christmas.