This term is used to describe a harmful invasion of food and/or water which results in food poisoning. It is another word for ‘infection’ and includes a variety of ways in which food can become ‘contaminated’ and so cause food poisoning.

It includes:

  • Not cooking food at the right temperature
  • Not cooking food for the correct length of time
  • Not storing food at a cold enough temperature (chilling)
  • Not washing your hands before preparing or cooking food.
  • Not washing your hands after doing so
  • Not washing your hands properly after visiting the toilet and then handling food.
  • Reheating foods more than once, e.g. rice
  • Leaving foods out to cool instead of storing them in the fridge as soon as possible.
  • Eating food which has passed it’s ‘use by’ date*

Cross contamination is another cause of food poisoning which is discussed in a separate section.

* There is still an ongoing debate about ‘sell by’ and ‘use by’ dates. It has been argued that foods which have passed their ‘use by’ date are still safe to eat. We are throwing away needless amounts of food because of these labels but in fact, there is nothing wrong with them.

However, eating foods such as chicken which have gone past their ‘use by’date dramatically increases the risk of food poisoning. Experts argue that bacteria have time to multiply within this and other similar foods and that the longer you leave it the greater the risk of infection.

The answer may be to apply good old fashioned common sense. Foods which are only a couple of days past their ‘use by’date are probably safe to eat as long as they are cooked thoroughly. But raw food especially poultry and the like needs to be approached with more care.

Follow food preparation and cooking instructions carefully

For more information visit the Food Standards Agency website (

Food Poisoning Guide

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