Australia's Food Safety Report Card Brings Some Good News

June 8, 2020

In recognition of the United Nation’s World Food Safety Day on June 7, the Food Safety Information Council has released a report card on Australia’s food safety record. The report card acknowledges significant changes in food-borne illness in Australia and addresses some areas of concern that still need improvement.

In Australia, there are an estimated 4.1 million cases of food-borne illness each year. There are approximately 31,920 hospitalisations and 86 deaths. Food-borne illness is a serious issue, particularly for the food industry. Despite the many negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, there appears to be one positive note: there has been a decrease in some food-borne infections.

Council Chair Cathy Moir stated that since March “reported rates of Campylobacter and Salmonella infections per 100,000 people in Australia have almost halved compared with the previous two years.” This illustrates how food safety procedures such as proper and frequent hand washing do curb the incidence of food-borne illnesses.

She also noted that the decrease in food-borne illness cases could be related to the decrease in people gathering together due to COVID-19. Food-borne illness incidents are higher when food is prepared in bulk and served to groups of people as food tends to be left in the Temperature Danger Zone (5°C – 60°C) and there is a higher incidence of cross-contamination.

Despite the improvements in food-borne illness cases, Moir stated that there are areas that need to be improved upon. In a 2019 hand washing study, “29% of Australians said they didn’t always wash their hands after going to the toilet and more than a third admit they don’t always wash their hands before touching food.” This illustrates that some Australians do not take hand washing seriously, which is a significant food safety threat. Even though more Australians are taking hand washing seriously due to COVID-19, there is the possibility that some Australians will stop washing their hands as much post-pandemic.

Other areas of concern are based on consumer research and include the following:

  • 70% of Australians do not know the safe cooking temperature for potentially hazardous foods such as poultry and eggs.
  • One in four adults eat raw or undercooked egg dishes, with 12% of them doing this on a monthly basis.

These two areas are of concern due to the food safety threats they pose. If potentially hazardous foods such as poultry and eggs are not cooked to the right internal temperature, food-borne illness could occur. These types of foods, and dishes that contain these foods, can be contaminated with Salmonella and Campylobacter.

Overall, Australia’s food safety report card illustrates how food safety procedures, such as the proper hand washing technique, are effective at reducing food-borne illnesses. As businesses in the food industry continue to reopen in Australia, people must continue to wash their hands properly and frequently, especially those that work with food.