Preventing food poisoning

Food poisoning occurs as a result of eating contaminated food or water. This food has become contaminated by bacteria, viruses, parasites or toxins during preparation, cooking or storage.

Once it is eaten it releases toxins into the gastrointestinal tract which cause an infection we know as food poisoning.

There are several types of food poisoning which are caused by different strains of bacteria, viruses or parasites.

Symptoms of food poisoning include nausea, stomach pains, vomiting and diarrhoea.

Many people assume that food poisoning usually occurs as a result of eating contaminated food from fast food outlets, restaurants or social events such as a wedding.

But this is not always the case. Food poisoning does occur for those reasons but in many other cases it occurs in the home.

The main reason for this is a lack of awareness when handling food.

But can food poisoning be prevented?

The answer to that is yes. There are a few precautions you can take which are basically, common sense in regard to food safety and hygiene.

We cannot guarantee 100% that you will not get food poisoning but there are ways of minimising this risk which include the ‘four C’s.

(Source: The Food Standards Agency) These four ‘Cs’ plus two other ways of minimising the risk of food poisoning include:

Each of these is discussed individually and in greater detail.


Bacteria and germs are to be found everywhere. They are invisible to the naked eye but they can be found on every kitchen surface, utensil, tea towel, food etc.

They also live on your hands. This makes it very easy for them to spread to surfaces, other people, food etc and transmit infection as well.

This is why it is important to keep all areas of the kitchen clean and tidy.

Find out more in our cleaning section.


Many bacteria live inside food. If this food is not cooked at the correct temperature or for the right length of time then these bacteria will multiply and cause food poisoning.

Raw or undercooked foods are a primary cause of food poisoning.

Find out more in our cooking section.


It is as equally as important to store food correctly. It is easy to assume that only high temperatures kill bacteria but low temperatures such as those found in a fridge will also do this.

This is why it is essential to store food in the fridge, once it has been cooked and allowed to cool, as soon as possible. Cold temperatures will kill most but not all bacteria so store food in separate containers and use leftovers as soon as possible.

Find out more in our chilling section.

Cross contamination

This is used to describe a process in which bacteria spread from raw food, e.g. meat to cooked food. In other words, they ‘cross over’ from one source to another and help to spread infection.

One example of this is allowing blood from raw meat to drip onto cooked meat.

Find out more in our cross contamination section.

Preventing food poisoning in children

Food safety is of paramount importance for you and your family. It is easy to become complacent about this issue and not stick to any guidelines when preparing or cooking food.

But this complacency can lead to food poisoning. Food poisoning is bad news for an adult but even worse in children.

Children and food poisoning is discussed in more detail in this guide. There are also sections aimed at babies and teenagers as well.

It is never too early to teach children about the importance of food safety and hygiene which is where this guide can help. Have a look through this section and visit these other related sections as well.

They will provide you with enough information about preventing your child or children from being the next food poisoning statistics.

But another factor and one which is equally as important when looking at reducing the risk of food poisoning is food shopping.

Reducing the risk of food poisoning when purchasing food

This is something which you may, or may not think about when you do your weekly food shopping. Some people are aware of the importance of ‘sell by’and ‘use by’ labels on food but others are not.

Sell by/Use by labels

The ‘sell by’date is there to help the supermarket but the ‘best before’or ‘use by’ date is there to help you. The ‘use by’date is a reference to the quality of a food which means that once it has gone past this date it may be safe to eat although it will have lost some taste and texture.

One exception to this are eggs which must not be eaten once they have reached their ‘use by’date due to the risk of salmonella.

Think carefully before throwing away any foods which have just gone past their ‘use by’date. In some cases they are still safe to eat but check before you do.

This only applies if these foods have been stored at the correct temperature in a fridge or in a cold place.

Once food has been opened it will need to be eaten as soon as possible.

A few other things to consider when food shopping includes:

    • When buying eggs, open the carton and check that none of these are cracked, discoloured or soiled. If they are then mention this to a member of staff.
    • Avoid dented, punctured or damaged tins of food.
    • Avoid packaged foods which are leaking, ripped, punctured or soiled.
    • Use serving tongs to pick up cold meats, bread etc.
    • Keep hot and cold foods separate in your shopping trolley. It is a good idea to purchase these when you are near the end of your shopping.
    • Keep hot and cold foods separate when packing them into bags at the checkout.
    • Do not buy foods which are past their ‘use by’ or ‘best before’ date.

As soon as you arrive home, pack away your shopping as soon as possible. Avoid cramming too many foods into small spaces or on top of each other in the fridge.

We also discuss food irradiation: a form of protection for food in which radiation is used to destroy bacteria which cause food poisoning.

If you have a family then you will be particularly concerned about food safety and hygiene in regard to them. Children as well as adults can get food poisoning but they are at greater risk of complications which can be serious even life threatening.

Visit our section on food safety and your family to learn more about how to prevent food poisoning.

As with most things in life prevention is better then cure and this equally applies to food poisoning.

Food Poisoning Guide

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