Food poisoning

Learn how germs spread in the kitchen and how you can easily help protect your family from food-borne illnesses by using some simple cleaning and disinfecting techniques.


Food Safety Tips

You can help stop germs spreading when you prepare food by following some basic cleanliness steps. These steps will not only reduce germs on surfaces, they will also help protect you and your family from food-borne illnesses, and help prevent the growth of mould and mildew too.

About Food-borne Illness

Food-borne illness or ‘food poisoning’ is caused by consuming germs in contaminated food or water. Germs that cause food poisoning can easily spread from foods, such as raw meat and poultry, to hands or kitchen work surfaces, and in turn can spread to other foods.

Depending on the type of germ involved, the symptoms may begin from one to 36 hours after eating contaminated food, and may range from a mild stomach upset, vomiting and diarrhoea to severe illness. For those with weak immune systems, illness can be more severe.

Common Food-borne Illnesses

  • Salmonella: Causes salmonellosis which results in watery diarrhoea and abdominal pain, and sometimes vomiting and a fever. Food derived from animals and poultry is the main source.
  • Campylobacter: Causes campylobacteriosis and is present in foods such as raw milk, raw or undercooked poultry, and drinking water. Acute health effects of campylobacteriosis include severe abdominal pain, fever, nausea and diarrhoea. In two to ten per cent of cases the infection may lead to chronic health problems, including reactive arthritis and neurological disorders.
  • Vibrio cholera: Causes cholera through contaminated water and food such as rice, vegetables, millet gruel and various types of seafood. Symptoms, including abdominal pain, vomiting and profuse watery diarrhoea, may lead to severe dehydration and possibly death, unless fluid and salt are replaced.
  • Shigella: Bacteria that cause diarrhoea and dysentery (diarrhoea with blood and mucus in the stools) and are transmitted by ingestion of contaminated food or water, or through person-to-person contact. Apart from diarrhoea, symptoms of Shigella infection include fever, abdominal cramps, and rectal pain. Most patients recover without complications within seven days. Shigellosis can be treated with antibiotics, although some strains have developed drug resistance.
  • Salmonella typhi: Causes typhoid fever and is transmitted through the ingestion of food or drink contaminated by the faeces or urine of infected people. Symptoms usually develop 1–3 weeks after exposure and may be mild or severe. They include high fever, malaise, headache, constipation or diarrhoea, rose-coloured spots on the chest, and enlarged spleen and liver.

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Avoiding Tummy Upsets

Tummy upsets (gastroenteritis) are very common illnesses which can be spread by bacteria, a virus or other germs. They may be mild or severe causing diarrhoea and vomiting, which may then lead to dehydration due to fluid loss. Understanding how tummy bugs spread and what you can do to helps stop them, will help keep you and your family safe.

Quick Tips

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water.
  • If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand santiser to help destroy the germs on your hands.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces regularly, especially the surfaces that people often touch with their hands (e.g. door handles, taps and work surfaces).
  • Kill germs and prevent cross-contamination by cleaning up spills of body fluids such as vomit or faeces as soon as they happen. Disinfecting these areas not only prevents germ growth, it keeps these germs from spreading to other food, hands, and kitchen surfaces
  • Prepare and store food correctly, to reduce the risk of cross-contamination.

How to Wash Your Hands

  • Wet your hands with warm water and apply a small amount of liquid soap.
  • Rub your palms together vigorously (away from the water) to make a lather.
  • Rub every part of your hands including the backs of your hands, your thumbs, between your fingers, and under and around your nails.
  • Continue for 20 seconds. It takes that long for the soap and scrubbing action to dislodge and remove the germs.
  • Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  • Dry your hands thoroughly using a clean dry towel.

Why is Good Hygiene Important?

Tummy bugs that are caused by a virus spread through droplets expelled during vomiting or by coming into contact with vomit or faeces. Tummy bugs can also be caused by bacteria and can be spread by eating and drinking contaminated water or undercooked food, or by poor hygiene, such as not washing your hands after going to the toilet or before eating. Tummy bugs can also be passed by direct contact from person-to-person or through poor hygiene. Food poisoning (eating food infected with microbes) causes some cases, and common examples are Campylobacter, Salmonella and Escherichia coli (usually shortened to E. coli). Using good hygiene practices, particularly when someone in your home has picked up a tummy bug, whether viral or bacterial, can help to reduce the risk of spreading the germs to the rest of the family.

What You Should Know

The main symptoms are diarrhoea and/or vomiting. You may also have a high temperature, headache, aching limbs and tummy pains. In mild cases, you probably will not need to visit your doctor, but if the attack lasts longer than a few days or you think it was caused by a particular food, you should speak to your doctor for advice. It is unlikely, however, that the particular bacteria or virus causing the attack will be identified.

If at any time you or your family member shows signs of dehydration, you should call your doctor immediately for advice. Signs include tiredness, dizziness or light-headedness, headache, muscular cramps, sunken eyes, passing little urine, a dry mouth and tongue, weakness, and becoming irritable. Dehydration is more likely to occur in elderly or frail people, pregnant women, or people with severe diarrhoea and vomiting (in particular, if you are not able to replace the fluid lost with enough drinks).

You will not usually need medicines to treat tummy bugs. The most important thing to do is to replace the fluid you are losing through the diarrhoea and vomiting. Drink clear fluids in small amounts, as a large drink may cause more vomiting. You should also try and eat as normally as possible. You are unlikely to suffer any lasting effects from a tummy bug, providing any dehydration that may occur is treated in time.

How Good Hygiene Can Help

Tummy bugs can spread easily, even during the course of normal daily life, so you need to take extra care to help stop you and your family from getting ill. The most effective way of preventing the picking up and spreading of tummy bugs is to wash your hands frequently with soap and water, and dry them thoroughly. See ‘quick tips’ for how to wash your hand properly. Remember to wash you hands before you eat, and after using the toilet or changing a nappy.

As tummy bugs are often caused by poorly prepared or stored food, following good food hygiene measures can ensure that you, and the people you cook for, don't become ill. When preparing food it's important to make sure that bacteria aren't spread. To prevent this, wash your hands before you start preparing food and after touching raw food (especially meat) and check the use-by dates on food. Prepare raw foods, and foods that are ready to eat, separately and keep cloths, tea towels and hand towels clean, and wash or dispose of them regularly. During cooking, any harmful bacteria in your food are destroyed so it's important to make sure you cook everything properly. Make sure your food is hot all the way through before you eat it, and never reheat food more than once. When storing foods that need to be kept chilled in the refrigerator, put them in the refrigerator straight away (or at least within two hours). Cool cooked foods as quickly as possible before putting them in the refrigerator and use separate, sealed containers to store raw meat and poultry safely. Don't overfill your fridge, otherwise the cold air won't be able to flow properly and food may become too warm.

If you do suffer from a tummy bug, it’s advisable to stay off work, college, school etc. until at least 48 hours after the last episode of diarrhoea or vomiting. Children in particular shouldn’t return to school until they are fit and well enough to learn and not pass on any germs. Don’t swim in swimming pools for two weeks after the last episode of diarrhoea.

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Enjoying Outdoor Eating

The warmer weather brings with it the opportunity to enjoy cooking and eating outside. Unfortunately, if food hygiene is poor it can also mean that bacteria such as E. Coli, Salmonella and Campylobacter can spread easily, causing food poisoning. Don’t get caught out this summer. By following some simple hygiene precautions you can ensure you have a safe and happy barbeque.

Quick Tips

  • Wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling foods such as raw meat.
  • Wash down all food preparation boards and surfaces regularly then dry them thoroughly afterwards.
  • Keep marinades for raw and cooked meats apart, and throw away any leftover marinade if you've been dipping a brush in and out of it.
  • Don’t leave food such as dips, dairy products and meat out of the fridge for more than a couple of hours, and don’t leave food in the sun.
  • Keep raw meat away from cooked foods and those that are ready to eat, such as salads and buns.
  • Defrost any frozen meat thoroughly before cooking it.
  • Ensure the meat is cooked thoroughly before eating.

Why is Good Hygiene Important?

To avoid food-borne illness or ‘food poisoning’, you must ensure that you prepare food hygienically and cook it thoroughly – the two main risks come from undercooking meat and spreading germs from raw meat onto food you’re about to cook. You should also ensure that you thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water before preparing or eating food, or use a hand sanitiser when soap and water is not available.

What You Should Know

Food poisoning is usually mild, and most people get better within a week. But sometimes it can be more severe, so it’s important to take the risks seriously. Children, older people and those with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable to food poisoning.

How Good Hygiene Can Help

Preparing Food

You should be vigilant when preparing food for consumption outside. This means washing your hands regularly before and after handling foods such as raw meats. Clean and disinfect all food preparation boards and surfaces regularly before drying them thoroughly. Remember to clean up thoroughly after eating outside, including cleaning the barbeque grill and utensils.

Cooking Meat on a Barbeque

When you’re cooking any kind of meat on a barbeque, such as poultry (chicken or turkey), pork, steak, burgers or sausages, make sure the coals are glowing red with a powdery grey surface before you start cooking, as this means that they're hot enough. Ensure that frozen meat is properly thawed before you cook it, and once on the barbeque, turn the meat regularly and move it around the grill plates so that it cooks evenly.

The general rules are that meat is safe to eat when it is piping hot in the centre, there is no pink meat visible and any juices are clear. You shouldn’t assume that because meat is charred on the outside it will be cooked properly on the inside. A good way of checking is to cut the meat at the thickest part and ensure none of it is pink on the inside.

Some meat, such as steaks and joints of beef or lamb, can be served rare (not cooked in the middle) as long as the outside has been properly cooked. This will kill any bacteria that might be on the outside of the meat. However, food made from minced meat, such as sausages and burgers, must be cooked thoroughly all the way through.

Handling Raw Meat

Germs from raw meat can move easily onto your hands and then anything else you touch, including food that is cooked and ready to eat. This is called cross-contamination and can happen if raw meat touches anything (including plates, cutlery, tongs and chopping boards) that then comes into contact with other food.

To help prevent cross-contamination, always make sure you wash your hands after touching raw meat. Use separate utensils (plates, tongs and containers) for cooked and raw meat and never put cooked food on a plate or surface that has had raw meat on it. Also keep raw meat away from any foods that are ready to eat, such as salads and buns. Don’t put sauce or marinade on cooked food if it has already been used with raw meat.

Keeping Food Cool

It’s also important to keep some foods cool to prevent food-poisoning germs multiplying. Keep salads, dips, dairy products, desserts and cream cakes, sandwiches, ham and other cooked meats, and cooked rice (including rice salads) cool in the fridge where possible. Don’t leave food out of the fridge for more than a couple of hours, and don’t leave food in the sun.

Fire Safety

Make sure your barbeque is steady on a level surface, away from plants and trees, and only use recognised firelighters or starter fuel – and then only on cold coals. Never use petrol on a barbeque.

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Preparing Food Safely

At this time of year, your cupboards, refrigerator and freezer may well be stocked with more food than usual as you prepare to celebrate the holidays. To make sure that food poisoning doesn’t spoil your festivities, you need to ensure good hygiene in the kitchen.

Quick Tips

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before handling any food and immediately after handling any raw food, such as meat, poultry, fish or eggs.
  • Avoid preparing food for others if you are ill.
  • Regularly clean and disinfect the surfaces used for food preparation and those surfaces that you often touch with your hands.
  • Always separate raw and cooked or ready-to-eat foods while shopping, preparing, and storing them, to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Don’t overload your refrigerator.
  • Cook and reheat food thoroughly and evenly.
  • Chill or freeze food promptly and use up any leftovers within 24 hours.
  • Thaw, cook and store poultry correctly.
  • Ensure all foods are fresh and within their use-by date
  • Use water that is clean and safe in food preparation.

Why is Good Hygiene Important?

Following proper food safety practices is important for the health of your family. Because you cannot see illness-causing germs, correct food storage and preparation is necessary to keep food safe and to protect your family from food-borne illnesses.

What You Should Know

Food-borne illness or ‘food poisoning’ is caused by consuming germs in contaminated food or water. Germs that cause food poisoning can easily spread from foods, such as raw meat and poultry, to hands or kitchen work surfaces, and in turn can spread to other foods.

Depending on the type of germ involved, the symptoms may begin from one to 36 hours after eating contaminated food, and may range from a mild stomach upset, vomiting and diarrhoea to more severe illness.

How Good Hygiene Can Help


It is important to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before handling any food and immediately after handling any raw food, such as meat, poultry, fish or eggs, as germs picked up on the hands after handling raw food can easily be transferred to other foods and surfaces. Don’t use tea towels to dry your hands and keep any cuts or sores on your hands covered while preparing food. Avoid preparing food for others if you are ill and don’t sneeze or cough near food.

Kitchen Surfaces

To help stop germs spreading, it is important to regularly clean and disinfect the surfaces used for food preparation and those surfaces that you often touch with your hands, such as the fridge door handle, cupboard handles, taps, waste bins and door handles. Clean and disinfect food contact surfaces before putting any food on them and immediately after contact with any raw food (e.g. poultry, meat, fish and eggs). After touching raw food you should also clean and disinfect any surfaces that you may have contaminated (e.g. fridge door handle and taps) with germs picked up on your hands.

You can decontaminate small items such as crockery, cutlery and pans by washing them thoroughly in hot water and detergent, then rinsing them with clean, safe, running water, before drying them thoroughly. Large or fixed items that you cannot rinse under a tap, such as work surfaces, taps and handles, need to be cleaned and then disinfected using a kitchen disinfecting product.


Cross-contamination happens when germs spread from one food to another, directly or via surfaces or hands. Always separate raw and cooked or ready-to-eat foods while shopping, preparing, and storing them. In the refrigerator, keep washed salad items in the salad compartment, cooked and ready-to-eat food at the top, and raw meat covered at the bottom. Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly with clean water before using them. Avoid contact between raw foods and ready-to-eat foods by using separate chopping boards and knives. Try designating one board for fresh fruit and vegetables, and one for raw meats, poultry and seafood. After use, clean and disinfect chopping boards, or put them through a dishwasher on a hot wash (at least 60ºC). Also wash knives, dishes and utensils thoroughly with hot, soapy water after use.

Preparing Food Safely

Cook food thoroughly

You need to heat food thoroughly and evenly, so that it is cooked all the way through, to kill any germs in it. Reheat food properly so that it is steaming hot all the way through (but only once). This will kill any germs that have multiplied in it since it was cooked.

Chill food promptly

Refrigerate perishables, prepared foods and leftovers within two hours or sooner. Put any frozen food you buy in the freezer straight away and keep it at or below minus 18ºC. Set the fridge at 5ºC or below and check the temperature regularly, particularly when your fridge is fuller than usual and the cooling air may be restricted from circulating properly. Put new supplies at the back of the fridge or freezer and bring older items to the front, to remind you to use them first. Check use-by dates and throw away food if the date has passed. Try not to overload your fridge – it's essential that you keep poultry leftovers, other cooked meats, trifles etc. refrigerated. Store drinks elsewhere if necessary.

If cooked food is not going to be eaten immediately, cool it and put it in the refrigerator within two hours – you should use up any leftovers within 48 hours.

Thoroughly defrost food (ideally in the fridge) before cooking (unless the instructions say cook from frozen). Once food has defrosted, keep it in the fridge and use it within 24 hours. Only defrost food in the microwave if it is going to be eaten straight away and never refreeze previously frozen food.


Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling raw poultry. Follow the instructions on the wrapper for an idea of cooking times, and thaw thoroughly in a cool room or the refrigerator. Remove giblets before cooking and preferably do not stuff the bird. Cook stuffing separately, otherwise stuff neck area only. Ensure that blood and water from having defrosted the bird does not drip or contaminate other food, work surfaces or cutting boards. Separate raw and cooked foods and clean all surfaces/equipment well.

Test if poultry is cooked by pushing a skewer into the thickest part of the thigh – juices should run clear with no sign of red or pink – and take special care with cooking times for large birds.

Other foods

When choosing fish, check that it looks fresh with clear, bright eyes and a firm texture. Check that fruit (including dried) and nuts are fresh with no blemishes, mould or insect holes, and store in a cool, dry place. Ensure dairy products (including milk, cream, yoghurt, soft cheese and eggs) are kept refrigerated when not in use. Keep fresh meat and defrosting foods at the bottom of the refrigerator to prevent dripping onto other foods. Avoid eating pâté, soft cheese and foods containing raw eggs if you are pregnant, elderly or have low resistance to infection. You should also avoid giving these foods to babies and young children.

Use of water

When drinking water or using it to prepare food, if you do not have access to a piped supply of safe water, you will need to treat your water before you use it. Filter it if necessary and then ensure it is properly purified. Chlorination is usually the disinfection method of choice because it is efficient and easy. Water purification tablets are not only effective, but economical and easy to use too.

Minimise the amount of time that water is stored before you use it, and have covered water containers that are fitted with a tap or pouring spout so that you do not need to dip your hands or other vessels into the water. Empty and clean water containers regularly.

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