Australian bushfires: Food safety and produce shortages additional concerns as blazes rage

By Gary Scattergood contact

- Last updated on GMT

Bushfires continue to rage in Australia. ©GettyImages
Bushfires continue to rage in Australia. ©GettyImages

Related tags: Australia, Food safety, Fresh produce

The deadly bushfires raging across Australia are also posing serious food safety risks, officials have warned, while damaged transport links are also likley to lead to shortages of some fresh produce.

Tens of thousands of residents and visitors have fled the fire hit coastal region of New South Wales, but all states have been affected to some extent.

The blazes had claimed 23 lives as of Saturday January 4, with more people unaccounted for.

With the fires showing little sign of slowing, and leading to widespread power cuts, there are now concerns that food safety risks could be heightened.

The Food Safety Information Council said that toxic fumes from burning materials and chemicals used to fight the fire can also contain toxic materials that can affect food products. The heat from a fire can cause bacteria in food to multiply,

Lydia Buchtmann, the council's communication director, said the organisation had been receiving consumer enquiries about what to do with food during the emergency.

Consumers are now being advised to throw out any food that has been near a fire, including food in cans and jars even if it appears to look ok.

Likewise, any raw food, or food in packaging such as cardboard, plastic wrap, screw-topped jars and bottles should also be thrown out, as should all refrigerated produce in fire-hit locations.

Safe disposal

"If your power has gone out your food will remain safe in your refrigerator for two hours. If it has been more than four hours, throw the food out. Don’t open the fridge door during the power cut, unless necessary,"​ it advised.

While small quantities of contaminated food can be wrapped in newspaper and placed in bins, larger quantities will require assistance from local government environmental health officers.

"Without correct disposal, fly breeding, animal and pest scavenging may result and increase the risk of the spread of infectious diseases,"​ said the council.

Affected residents are also urged to wash cooking utensils exposed to fire-fighting chemicals in soapy hot water, then sanitise in one tablespoon of chlorine bleach per two litres of water and rinse.

"Also remember to throw out food that was being cooked when the power failed if cooking cannot be completed properly within two hours. If food is already properly cooked, eat it within two hours or throw it out,"​ Ms Buchtmann added.

Meanwhile, in Western Australia there are fears the fires will lead to food shortages.

Western Roads Federation CEO Cam Dumesny said fresh produce that comes from the east of the country, such as cherries and pumpkin will be hit, while local producers are struggling to transport their seafood, avocado and lettuce in the opposite direction.

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