Eating should be a pleasure. But if food is not carefully looked after, harmful bacteria can intervene, causing food poisoning.

  • † Store food at the right temperature
  • † Cook it thoroughly
  • † Wash your hands before preparing food
  • † Prevent raw and cooked food from coming into contact with one another.

From shopping to storing, preparation and cooking you need to take to avoid the risk of food poisoning.

When Food is Contaminated

Food poisoning is due to eating food or drinking water that is contaminated with bacteria, viruses, mould, chemicals or toxins. This contamination can occur before purchase, during cooking or storage. The symptoms vary according to the type of contamination a severity, but may include nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting, stomach pains, sweating, fever and, in severe cases, shock and physical collapse.

If You Get Food Poisoning

Vomiting and diarrhoea may lead to dehydration. If this is the case, it is important to replace the lost fluid straight away, particularly if the sufferer is a child or elderly. Rehydration solutions are available from your pharmacist or you can make your own.

(make your own rehydration solution by mixing one litre of clean fresh water with eight teaspoons of sugar and one teaspoon of salt.)

you should see your doctor before giving rehydration solutions to babies or for severe cases of fluid loss. If symptoms persist seek medical advice after 36 hours. Rarely an individual may suffer from shock or physical collapse. In such cases, call an ambulance immediately. If you have suffered food poisoning, you should visit your GP who has to report all cases of suspected food poisoning to the local environmental health department to investigate if necessary. You may be asked for stool sample or a sample of the suspect food.

The Invisible Poisoners

Bacteria are the main cause of food poisoning, which can be caused by eating food that is contaminated by bacteria or by toxins produced by bacteria that were already in the food.

Bacterial Food Poisoning

Once the contaminated food has been eaten, the bacteria affect the intestines. The two most common causes of food poisoning in the UK. Campylobacter and Salmonella, both cause food poisoning in this way, with resultant symptoms of diarrhoea, vomiting, sweating and fever.

Campylobacter, known as the ‘barbeque bug’, is the most common cause of acute bacterial diarrhoea. Though mainly found in contaminated meat and poultry, wild birds pecking at milk bottle tops can contaminate your pint. The onset of symptoms takes between two and six days. These are normally ‘flu like’ and include diarrhoea which may contain blood.

Salmonella is probably the most well-known of food poisoning bacteria. The onset of symptoms can occur relatively quickly, between 8 to 48 hours. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhoea, fever and headache and last for 1 to 2 days but can be prolonged. (Salmonella symptoms are most severe in the elderly and infants.)

Toxic Food Poisoning

Not many bacteria routinely produce toxins on food. But when someone is infected with toxic food poisoning, the symptoms are, in the main, more severe and come on more quickly than bacterial food poisoning. The most notorious of these toxins in Botulism.

One of the most common types toxic poisoning is caused by Bacillus cereus. As the name suggests, the bacteria live on cereal grains, primarily rice, and form a spore (a bacteria seed) which can survive cooking. The onset of symptoms can take 2 to 14 hours. These include vomiting, abdominal pain and some diarrhoea and will last from 12 to 48 hours.

A relatively rare bacteria that lives on the skin can make a toxin that can cause acute illness less than an hour after eating. Called Staphlococcus aureus, it affects fermented meat products such as salami and some desserts. Its existence is another good reason for washing your hands when preparing food!

Safe Shopping for Food

The premises you buy food in will tell you much about how hygienic its food is. If the shop is dirty and has problems with flies or other pests, don’t shop there. Make sure your food which has been handled as little as possible. Do not accept food which has been handled by someone with dirty hands or clothes or has been smoking or eating or just touched their mouth or hair.

In a survey of food hygiene in delicatessens, a quarter of ham and ready-made dishes sampled had an unsatisfactory amount of bacteria.

You should never use eggs after their best before date.

Taking Food Home

A hot car or office or just carrying the food around for an hour can raise its temperature and encourage bacteria to multiply.

Raw food should be separated from ready to eat foods in your shopping bag. Raw meats and poultry should be thoroughly wrapped and kept separate from all other foods.

Keeping food fresh

Temperature is the key

Store the most perishable foods in the coldest (0C to 5C).

Freezing food does not kill bacteria, it controls their growth. Defrosting frozen food allows bacteria to multiply, that is why you should never refreeze it.

To keep the fridge cold:

  • † Don’t overload it
  • † Don’t keep the door open longer than necessary
  • † Defrost it regularly.

Dairy products – soft cheeses wrapped in suitable food wrap can be kept for up to a week.

Eggs – Throw away broken or cracked eggs.

Fish – fish is best eaten fresh but can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.

Fruit & vegetables – most fruit and vegetable (except bananas and most root vegetable) last longer stored in the fridge.

Meat & Poultry – eat cooked meat within 2 days.

Oils – oils do not need refrigeration.

Grains, cereals, flour & dried pasta – cooked rice and pasta should be cooled then refrigerated within 12 hours and eaten within 24 hours.

Sauces & pickles – store opened sauces and pickles in the fridge.

Sugar, syrups & jams – reduced sugar jams should be stored in the fridge.

Cleaning Reduces Risk

  • † Bleach, disinfect or change kitchen cloths and sponges frequently.
  • † Wash dishes, worktops and cutlery with hot water and detergent.
  • † Rinse the washing up and let it drip-dry if possible.
  • † Disinfect worktops frequently especially when raw meat or poultry has been prepared.
  • † Avoid using the same knife or chopping board for raw meat, cooked food and fresh vegetable.
  • † To deter flies, ants and mice, avoid leaving open packets on worktops and clean up any spillages straight away.
  • † Regularly clean out food cupboards, leaving them to dry before replacing food.
  • † Breadbins should be regularly cleaned and disinfected to help prevent mould growth.