Top tips for staying healthy and well this long weekend

Victorians are being encouraged to stay on alert for symptoms of gastroenteritis over summer, with cases typically rising at this time of year.

Speaking ahead of the long weekend, Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Dr Clare Looker urged people to be mindful of food safety particularly when cooking outside and in hotter temperatures.

“We typically see a rise in food poisoning at this time of year when the weather heats up,” she said.

Dr Looker warned unsafe food can contain harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites and chemicals that can lead to more than 200 diseases and illnesses, with the most common being gastroenteritis.

Top food safety tips include keeping high-risk food at 5°C or below, and above 60°C to avoid the ‘temperature danger zone’ where bacteria multiply fastest.

As a general rule, raw food should never be refrozen once thawed.

High-risk foods include raw and cooked meat, dairy products, eggs and egg products, smallgoods, seafood, cooked rice and pasta, and pre-prepared products like coleslaws, fruit salads and sandwiches.

Washing hands thoroughly with soap and water is key to food safety and stopping the spread of germs.

“Good old-fashioned handwashing with soap and water is still the best defense against spreading the bug,” Dr Looker said.

“Alcohol hand rub, while effective against some viruses is not sufficiently effective for preventing viral gastroenteritis.”

There are about 5.4 million cases of food-related gastroenteritis in Australia each year, resulting in 1.2 million people visiting a GP, 300,000 prescriptions for antibiotics, and 2.1 million days of work lost.

About 20 per cent of food poisoning cases are thought to be due to poor food handling in the home.

It is also important that fresh fruit and vegetables are washed thoroughly in clean water, even if home-grown or with a skin, to remove bacteria.

Dr Looker said it was also important people knew to avoid swimming in pools for at least 14 days after they have had gastro, or diarrhea, to avoid contamination and infecting others.

“Everyone has a responsibility to keep themselves and others safe and healthy in the pool and help keep the pool clean,” she said.

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