What are the causes of food poisoning?

Food poisoning is caused by micro-organisms or germs such as bacteria, viruses and mould.

Bacteria just love moist environments, especially those with temperatures between 5C and 63C. So if you have just bought a joint of meat then avoid leaving it out on a kitchen surface. Store it in the fridge or freezer instead.

These can cause the most serious forms of food poisoning.

Viruses and mould are other forms of micro-organisms which can be spread into food via none other than yourself. Many people don’t realise that they carry thousands of germs, mainly on their hands which can easily be transferred onto food.

Avoid this by keeping your hands clean and dry and washing them after preparing food. This is particularly important if you have handled raw meat or poultry.
Mould is a fungus that appears as a grey ‘fur coat’ on food that is past its best. It releases spores into the air which are then reabsorbed by the food. This causes the mould to spread. The larger the food surface the greater the extent of the mould, for example a loaf of bread.

If you notice mould on any of your food then it is possible to remove it and still eat the food although it depends on the extent. If it only covers a small surface, for example, on a piece of fruit then you may be able to cut it off and still eat the fruit.

But if it covers a large area then it is better to throw away the infected food.

Food poisoning can be caused by the following:

  • Cross-contamination: this refers to the mixing of raw and ready cooked meat. If raw meat is allowed to drip blood onto other foods or is placed on top of ready to eat food then bacteria will spread between the two.
  • Seafood: this is a low calorie, heart healthy food with numerous health benefits such as lowering cholesterol. But, there are people who have a problem with seafood, in particular shellfish which can occur as a result of toxins present in that food.
  • Raw egg products: for example mayonnaise. Eggs contain harmful bacteria which can be problematic for the elderly, babies and pregnant women.
  • Meat: poultry is one of the worst offenders here. Other examples are mince (beef etc) and pates.
  • Unwashed fruit and vegetables: these are a vital part of our diet but they need to be washed before eating to remove any germs.
  • Soft/Mould-ripened cheeses: these include Brie, Camembert and Stilton. These cheeses are moister than others which makes them the perfect environment for the growth of bacteria, for example listeria.

Pregnant women should avoid eating these cheeses because of the potential risk from bacteria to the unborn child.

Food poisoning can occur in two ways: bacteria multiply in the body before causing symptoms; or the bacteria releases toxins into your bloodstream which then cause food poisoning.

In some cases the symptoms can occur only a few hours after eating contaminated food.

Food Hygiene Guide Index:

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