It’s Boxing Day. That groaning sound is not Santa stuck in the chimney on the way out. It’s your fridge.
You’ve got the leftover prawns on the bottom shelf, in a plastic bag wrapped in butcher’s paper. They are squashed on top of the beers. For some reason, you’ve removed them from their cardboard carriers. Somehow, the only place to keep the brie is right next to the prawns but it’s got stuck on the cold plate down the back. The shelves are stacked with the sparkling and the milk. You briefly consider pouring the milk down the sink. You can't be sure that when your aunt made a cup of tea at 6pm on Christmas Day, the milk actually went back into the fridge. It's probably yoghurt by now.
Those fridge doors have been opened 77 times since breakfast and are no longer at four degrees.Credit:iStock
Welcome to Festive Tetris, the party game where you try to squeeze everything into your fridge. It’s designed for a family of five but you are feeding 40 people over three days. You’ve even sacrificed the oyster sauce to squeeze in the carton of cream.
That groaning sound you hear? It is your fridge crying out for help. It works perfectly 363 days of the year but since Christmas Eve, it’s been under stress.
Food safety goes out the window over Christmas, says Julian Cox, associate professor of food microbiology at the University of NSW.
We are all hanging around having a good time with our families and our friends but we prepare too much food, we leave it out on the table for too long and then we store it in our fridges. Those fridge doors have been opened 77 times since breakfast and are no longer at four degrees or cooler. Instead, they’ve climbed above 10 degrees and that’s when some nasties start to grow.
A 2017 survey showed Britons open their fridges 14 times a day. But that clearly wasn’t an Australian summer, it wasn’t Christmas, Boxing Day and beyond and that lot don’t mind if their beers are warm.
Cox says food spoils much faster at temperatures over four degrees and milk definitely won’t hold its shelf life. The worst thing is that it puts our leftovers at risk – the ones we’ve been banking on eating to get us through the next few days while our bank accounts recover.
Yes, our annual tradition of eating ham sandwiches on the couch in front of the Boxing Day Test might just put our health at risk if we aren't careful. Want mayonnaise with those sambos? Don't make your own. NSW Food Authority chief executive Lisa Szabo told The Sydney Morning Herald's Kate Aubusson that using commercial products instead of handmade mayonnaise reduces the risk of salmonella poisoning.
Cox says we must be both diligent and vigilant when it comes to food preparation and storage over the bingeing period.
Be diligent when you cook your turkey, make sure it’s cooked all the way through. Get a meat thermometer now and check that the middle of the bird gets to 75 degrees Celsius. Any bugs will be dead. Let the turkey rest but as soon as everyone’s helped themselves to seconds, get the leftovers back in the fridge which should be at four degrees or colder. While that turkey waits on the table, the greeblies are landing so you have to be vigilant about storing food quickly.
“The higher the temperature the faster bugs will grow,” says Cox, who notes you should "reserve the fridge for the most risky foods": The fish, the prawns, the chicken and turkey.
It turns out, jamming food in your fridge is more an act of faith than an actual health prevention strategy. The experts have a solution: Don’t use the fridge.
Bring out your Eskies. Fill them with ice. Put all your drinks in there. The wine. The beer. Even water. Because warm beer and wine won’t kill you.
Veronica Polegubic from Food Standards Australia is a fan of the Esky solution because it allows the fridge to keep its cool. Food stored in the fridge all needs to have cool air circulating around it, not all squashed up together.
The Brits may only open their fridge doors 14 times a day but over the Aussie holiday period, it will be 14 times before morning tea. Support your local bottle-o and buy bags of ice. At least you can be sure that final Boxing Day beer is chilled, even if you aren’t.
Jenna Price has now invested in more Eskies.
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