- Every day people get ill from the food they eat. Bacteria, viruses and parasites found in food can cause food poisoning.
- Often, there's no way of telling if food is contaminated because it might not look, taste or smell any different from normal.
- Food poisoning can lead to gastroenteritis and dehydration, or potentially even more serious health problems such as blood poisoning (septicaemia) and kidney failure.
- Food poisoning can be serious in babies, children, older people and pregnant women because these people have a weaker immune system.
If you bear in mind a few simple points, you can help prevent a bout of food poisoning for you and your family.
- Wash your hands with soap and warm water before and after you handle food. Dry them with a separate hand towel (not a tea towel).
- Remove your jewellery before you handle food – bacteria can hide under jewellery such as rings.
- Clean the area you’re working in and the utensils you’re using. Clean up any spilt food straight away.
- Change your tea towels and dishcloths regularly because they can harbour bacteria, especially if they're damp.
If you don’t follow the storage guidelines that come with your food, you could let yourself in for real problems.
- Check labels for advice on how to store food.
- Keep your fridge between 0 °C and 5 °C, and your freezer at less than –18 °C to prevent bacteria from multiplying. A cool bag or box can help to keep chilled foods cold when you're returning home from the supermarket, particularly in warm weather.
- Keep raw meat and seafood separate from other foods in airtight containers at the bottom of the fridge.
- Defrost frozen foods in the fridge. Pop them on a plate or in a container as they defrost so they don't drip onto other foods.
- Don't store opened tins of food in the fridge – transfer to an airtight container instead. Once you open a tin, material such as bacteria can get into the contents.
- Allow leftovers to cool to room temperature (for no more than two hours) before you put them in the fridge. Eat within two days.
- Rice needs to be cooled more quickly, ideally within an hour. Divide leftover rice into shallow containers so it cools faster, then put the containers in the fridge. Eat within a day.
- Don’t eat any foods that have passed their use-by date, even if they look fine. They may not be safe to eat. You can eat food after its best before date (except eggs).
- Take chilled foods out of the fridge at the last minute before you eat.
- Use separate chopping boards and utensils to prepare raw meat or fish, and clean them thoroughly with soap and warm water after use.
- Raw meat and fish contain harmful bacteria that are killed during cooking but that can spread from your knives and chopping boards to other foods if not washed away.
Cooking at temperatures over 70 °C for at least two minutes will kill any bacteria in food. Bacteria can survive cooler temperatures than this, so it's vital to cook food properly.
- Follow the instructions for cooking time and temperature, and pre-heat your oven fully.
- Make sure food is piping hot – you should see steam coming out before you serve it. A food thermometer is a handy tool to check if food is cooked to the right temperature (70 °C).
- Cook meat all the way through. Aside from rare steaks, or lamb and beef joints, meat shouldn’t be pink in the middle. Use a clean skewer to pierce the meat; if it’s cooked properly, the juices will run clear.
- Always reheat pre-cooked food thoroughly.
- Only reheat pre-cooked food once.
- If you're cooking food in a microwave, stir it well from time to time to ensure that it’s evenly cooked all the way through.
- Food poisoning. BMJ Best Practice. www.bestpractice.bmj.com, published 10 October 2014
- Food poisoning. Medscape. www.emedicine.medscape.com, published 3 May 2015
- Safe cooling of cooked rice. Government of Western Australia Department of Health. www.healthywa.wa.gov.au, accessed 12 May 2015
- What can I do to help keep my food safe? Dietitians of Canada. www.dietitians.ca, published 14 June 2013
- Food safety in pregnancy. British Nutrition Foundation. www.nutrition.org.uk, published June 2011
- Food safety guidelines. Ministry for Primary Industries. www.foodsmart.govt.nz, accessed 12 May 2015
- Food hygiene a guide for businesses. Food Standards Agency. www.food.gov.uk, published June 2013
- Kitchen check tips. Food Standards Agency. www.food.gov.uk, accessed 12 May 2015
- Food labelling and packaging. Department of Health. www.gov.uk, published 15 December 2014
- Storing food safely. nidirect. www.nidirect.gov.uk, accessed 12 May 2015
- Safe method: rice. Food Standards Agency. www.food.gov.uk, accessed 12 May 2015
- Food standards: labelling, durability and composition. Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs. www.gov.uk, published 9 April 2013
- Storing food safely – 'use by' and 'best before' dates. nidirect. www.nidirect.gov.uk, accessed 12 May 2015
- Cooking food properly. nidirect. www.nidirect.gov.uk, accessed 12 May 2015
- Microwaves. Government of Canada. www.healthycanadians.gc.ca, published 9 January 201
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Reviewed by Rachael Mayfield-Blake, Bupa Health Content Team, June 2015.
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