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Food safety for vulnerable people

Vulnerable people have a greater risk of getting sick because their immune system is weakened (or still developing). These people include pregnant women, their unborn and newborn babies, the elderly and people whose immune systems have been weakened by illness or drugs (for example: cancer patients, organ transplant recipients, and people on drugs like cortisone). 

Keeping food safe 

To reduce the chance of illness from food, it is important to always practice good food safety. Everyone should follow these food safety basics: 

  • keep things clean 
  • separate raw food from ready-to-eat food 
  • cook food thoroughly 
  • keep cold food cold, and hot food hot. 

See food safety basics for more details.

Safer food choices

Some foods are a higher risk for vulnerable populations, who can be more severely affected than the general population by bacteria in food. If vulnerable people eat these foods, they are more likely to become seriously ill, have life-long health complications (e.g. arthritis, kidney disease) or even die. 

If you are vulnerable, it is safest to only eat freshly prepared food. 

Foods that are a higher risk to the elderly, pregnant and immunocompromised are listed in the table below. You can reduce the chance of becoming ill by choosing safer alternatives and following the precautions listed.    

Higher risk foods Safer alternatives Precautions
Cheese - soft, semi soft and surface ripened cheeses

Pre-packaged and delicatessen (e.g. brie, camembert, mozzarella, ricotta, feta and blue) 
 

Hard cheeses, pasteurised cream cheese, plain cottage cheese, baked soft cheeses (cooked to an internal temperature of 75°C) 
 
Purchase cheeses packaged by the manufacturer.

Store in the fridge. 

Chicken - pre-cooked, cold

Purchased whole, portions, slices or diced  
 

Freshly cooked  Ensure chicken is cooked thoroughly, use immediately.

Cool and store any leftovers in fridge and use within a day of cooking.

Thoroughly reheat any leftovers to steaming hot.
 

Cooking dough - raw

(e.g. biscuit or cake batter) 

Cooked product 
 
Be sure to wash hands thoroughly after handling raw eggs and before you touch any other food or equipment. 
 
Dairy products - unpasteurised

Raw milk and cheeses 

Pasteurised dairy products  
 
Store all pasteurised dairy products in the fridge. Limit time spent in the 'danger zone' of 5-60°C when serving.
 
Eggs - raw and lightly-cooked

(e.g. in milkshakes, mayonnaise and aioli, lightly poached eggs, mousse, custard) 

Pasteurised eggs, cooked omelettes, hard boiled eggs, commercial custard and dressings e.g. mayonnaise, aioli 
 
Buy clean and uncracked eggs.
Store eggs in the fridge.

Cook eggs until both the yolk and egg are firm e.g. 72°C.

Be sure to wash hands thoroughly after handling raw eggs and before you touch any other food or equipment.

Cool and store leftovers in fridge and eat within a day.

Enoki mushrooms - raw or lightly cooked 
 
Thoroughly cooked  
 
See enoki mushrooms.
 
Fruit and vegetables - frozen
 
Freshly prepared fruit and vegetables, or thoroughly cooked frozen product 
 
Wash all fresh fruit and vegetables thoroughly.

Store any leftovers in fridge and use within a day of preparation.
 

Fruit juices - unpasteurised 
 
Pasteurised juices 
 
Store in the fridge and follow the manufacturer's instructions.  
 
Hummus and tahini, including dips containing tahini  Pasteurised dips, spreads without tahini 
 
Store in fridge. Limit time spent in the 'danger zone' of 5-60°C when serving. 
 
Ice cream - soft serve  
 
Packaged frozen ice cream 
 
Keep the ice cream frozen hard. 
 
Meats - cold, ready-to-eat

Unpackaged meats from deli counters and sandwich bars

Packaged, sliced meats 
 

Freshly cooked, or thoroughly reheated to steaming hot  
 
Ensure meat is thoroughly cooked. Use immediately or cool and store in fridge and use within a day of cooking. 
 
Meat - raw and semi cooked (e.g. burger patties) 
 
Thoroughly cooked meat 
 
Ensure meat is thoroughly cooked. Use immediately or store any leftovers in fridge and use within a day of cooking. Thoroughly reheat any leftovers to steaming hot. 
 
Paté or meat spreads, refrigerated 
 
Canned or shelf-stable patés or meat spreads 
 
Use immediately or store any leftovers in fridge and use within a day. 
 
Rock melon
 
Tree fruits (e.g. mango, orange, apple), tinned fruits 
 
Wash all fruit thoroughly.

Store any leftovers in fridge and use within a day of preparation. 

Salads - pre-prepared or pre-packaged fruit or vegetable salads

Including salads from buffets and salad bars 
 

Freshly prepared salads 
 
Wash all vegetables and fruit thoroughly.

Store any leftovers in fridge and use within a day of preparation. 

Seafood - chilled, ready-to-eat or raw

Oysters, sushi, sashimi, ceviche
Smoked seafood, chilled cooked prawns  

Freshly cooked or thoroughly reheated to steaming hot 
 
Use immediately or store any leftovers in fridge and use within a day of cooking. 
 
Seed sprouts - raw
 
Thoroughly cooked sprouts  
 
Use immediately, or cool and store leftovers in fridge, and use within a day of cooking. Thoroughly reheat before eating. 

More information on vulnerable populations

Pregnancy and healthy eating

 

Pathogens in food

Foodborne pathogens are microorganisms (e.g. bacteria and viruses) that can cause illness from food. Three of the most important bacteria that cause foodborne illness in vulnerable people are Listeria, Salmonella and Campylobacter. Each pathogen is a bit different - they can come from different sources (e.g. the environment, animals or people) and be found in different foods. 

Listeria is especially dangerous, as eating food contaminated with this bacteria can result in severe illness, miscarriage or death. Listeria can grow over a wide temperature range and even in the fridge. However, it can be destroyed by cooking food thoroughly. 

At warm temperatures, most foodborne pathogens can grow very quickly and some can produce harmful toxins. Keeping food either cold or hot (not lukewarm) helps prevent this from happening.

Learn more about foodborne pathogens:

 

 

Page last updated 8 January 2024