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Food preparation and safety

9-minute read

It is important to practice safe handling and preparation of food. This is especially true when you are pregnant or have children. It is good to know the risks, and how to minimise them.

Food poisoning

Food poisoning is a common issue. Symptoms range from an diarrhoea and vomiting to more serious food poisoning and diseases like hepatitis A.

Some bacteria and viruses and their toxins can give you food poisoning. So, you need to take care with all your food. Foods that smell off, are slimy or have gone mouldy, shouldn’t be eaten.

Some foods that cause food poisoning can appear normal, so it’s important to prevent foods getting contaminated.

Some foods are considered high-risk foods for developing food poisoning. These foods should be avoided if you are pregnant. They include:

  • fresh bean sprouts, other preprepared salad goods that aren’t washed before eating
  • hummus and tahini
  • pâte
  • cold chicken or turkey
  • pre-packaged salads
  • pre-prepared sandwiches
  • processed deli meats
  • raw meat
  • raw dairy products and foods made from these (such as goats’ cheese)
  • raw eggs
  • raw seafood
  • soft serve ice cream
  • stuffing (from roast chicken or poultry)
  • sushi

These foods can cause a severe type of food poisoning that can severely impact your pregnancy.

Salmonella, which can be caught by eating raw eggs and uncooked meat, can in rare cases cause miscarriage.

Listeriosis can be avoided by eating fresh, well-washed foods. Listeria can cause miscarriage, premature labour, or stillbirth.

Toxoplasmosis can come from eating unwashed produce that may have been in contact with cat faeces (poo). This can cause blindness or brain damage in your unborn baby.

Even after you have your baby, some foods may require extra care during storage, preparation, and handling.

Seafood contains nutrients that are important for a child’s development. However, it can contain mercury, which is harmful. Monitor your seafood intake if you are pregnant, or if your child is under 6 years old.

Safely include fish as an important part of a balanced diet.

  • Eat 2-3 serves per week of any fish and seafood not listed below


  • Eat 1 serve per week of these, and no other fish:
    Catfish or Orange Roughy (Deep Sea Perch)


  • Eat 1 serve per fortnight of these, and no other fish:
    Shark (Flake) or Billfish (Broadbill, Swordfish and Marlin)
Pregnancy, breastfeeding and planning pregnancy 1 serve equals 150g
Children up to 6 years 1 serve equals 75g

How to shop for food safely

When shopping for food, collect chilled and frozen foods last. You can also bring an insulated container for products such as:

  • meat
  • dairy products
  • chilled and frozen foods

You should put cold foods into your fridge immediately. Your fridge temperature should be 4°C or less.

Put raw meat on the lowest shelf in your fridge so that the juices don’t drip onto other foods.

How to take care with food at home

Preparing food

Before preparing food, wash your hands with soap and water. Also wash your hands before eating. Always wash your hands after changing a nappy or blowing your child's nose.

If you are using fruit or vegetables, make sure they are washed well with water using clean hands. If you are washing your produce in a sink or container, make sure it is also clean.

If there is any concern about the safety of the water, use bottled water. This includes for brushing your teeth and making ice. If bottled water is not available, you can boil water for 5 minutes or use chlorine-based tables to treat the water. Iodine-based water treatment systems are not recommended for pregnant woman as the iodine can affect your baby’s development.

You should also keep your utensils clean. Wash benches, dishcloths, chopping boards and kitchen utensils with soap and water. Separate raw and cooked food. Use different cutting boards and knives for both.

It is important to take care when preparing meat. Avoid defrosting meat at room temperature. Instead, defrost chicken or meat overnight in the fridge. If you’re in a hurry, thaw meat in a microwave.


When cooking, it is important to remember that heat kills most bacteria. So, make sure you cook foods thoroughly, especially high-risk foods including:

  • chicken
  • pork
  • sausages
  • turkey

When reheating foods, warm them to at least 60°C, and they're steaming hot.

When barbecuing, carry cooked meat to the table on a clean plate.

If any utensil has been in contact with raw meat, wash it well. Also keep it away from the cooked food, to prevent contamination.

Storing food

When storing food, keep hot foods hot. You can do this by placing the food in your oven. Store cold foods in your fridge.

If you have leftover food, don’t leave it at room temperature. Cool the food quickly and put it into your fridge.

Cooked rice should be placed in your fridge as soon as it has stopped steaming. Keep in an air-tight container in your fridge. Eat within three days of cooking. Improperly stored cooked rice can be a cause of food poisoning.

Store foods that contain raw eggs or milk in your fridge.

Thawed meat can be re-frozen if it was defrosted in the fridge. Ensure it is cooked properly when thawed for the second time.

Food safety when eating out

It is important to take care with your food when eating out. When you go on a picnic, carry your food in an insulated container with an ice pack.

Chose to eat at food stores that appear clean. Avoid smorgasbord venues. Also avoid choosing food items that are not stored appropriately eg hot food must be hot when purchased.

Food allergy risks

It is also important to think about potential allergies when preparing food for your child and their friends. Common foods that cause allergies include:

  • eggs
  • fish and shellfish
  • peanuts and tree nuts
  • milk
  • sesame seeds
  • soy
  • wheat

If you want to introduce allergy foods into your child’s diet, wait until they are 6 months old. Introduce allergy foods one at a time.

School lunches

It is important to remember food safety when preparing your child’s lunch for school.

Lunches containing meat, egg, fish, chicken, or soft cheese must be kept cool. A plastic bottle of frozen water in the lunchbox helps.

It is also important to consider food allergies. You should inform your child’s school if they have a food allergy. It is also important to find out from the school if any foods are banned in school lunches e.g. nuts and eggs.

How do I find out more about food safety and recalls?

The safety of food and drink in Australia is regulated by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ).

You can subscribe to an email newsletter or follow them on social media for the latest food recalls.

FSANZ also has consumer information on nutrition, additives and fortification, as well as useful tips and information on food safety.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: June 2022

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Need more information?

Food safety | Eat For Health

Guideline 5 states that Australians should care for their food; prepare and store it safely. We have a reliable, safe and nutritious food supply in Australia. But food poisoning happens too frequently. More than five million cases of food borne illnesses are estimated to occur every year in Australia. Useful information about ways to keep food safe can be found at the websites below.

Read more on NHMRC – National Health and Medical Research Council website

Food safety | SCHN Site

Safeguarding the health of food with the correct preparation, cooking and storage of products.

Read more on Sydney Children's Hospitals Network website

Food safety and power outages | NT.GOV.AU

Storing food safely when the power goes out, including when it's safe to eat.

Read more on NT Health website

Food safety while travelling - Better Health Channel

Travelling, eating and drinking go together but unfortunately, traveller's diarrhoea and other food-related illnesses can sometimes come along for the ride.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Healthy eating - Better Health Channel

Nutrition basics, life stages, food safety, diet and health conditions, nutritional advice and vitamins and supplements.

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Preschool: practical tips for settling in | Raising Children Network

Settling in at preschool means new routines for your child and for you. Get practical information about arriving, leaving, clothing, food, safety and more.

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Raising kids in tropical Australia

Growing up in northern Australia can be a magical and safe experience. But parents need to be aware of the risks posed by life in the tropics.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Preventing food poisoning at home | SA Health

Food poisoning can be caused by eating food contaminated by bacteria, viruses, parasites or fungi, or by toxins produced by them

Read more on SA Health website

Iodine supplementation - Maternal and newborn

iodine supplementation for women thinking of having a baby, during preganancy and breastfeeding

Read more on NSW Health website

What are the Australian Dietary Guidelines? | Dietitians Australia

The Australian Dietary Guidelines are a framework for healthy eating among the general population. There are 5 guidelines for healthy eating.

Read more on Dietitians Australia website

Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

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