Some foods can support the growth of pathogenic (harmful) bacteria. If food is not treated correctly, these pathogens can be eaten and can cause food poisoning. In Britain it is estimated that up to 5.5 million people a year suffer from food poisoning.
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Symptoms of food poisoning
The symptoms of food poisoning vary depending on the bacteria which has caused the illness, however, common symptoms are:
- Stomach cramps
These symptoms can occur anywhere between two hours and six days from the time of eating contaminated food, so it may not be the last thing you ate which caused the illness.
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What to do if you think you have food poisoning
If you suspect you may have food poisoning it is very important that you see your doctor as soon as possible so the type of bacteria which has made you ill can be identified. The doctor should notify Environmental Health on your behalf and we may contact you to do a questionnaire about your diet prior to your illness.
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Avoid food poisoning at home
Unfortunately, restaurants and caterers are not the only people who can serve unsafe food - many cases are caused by food prepared at home. To avoid food poisoning in your household follow our top tips for food safety:
Watch your temperatures
Bacteria grow fastest between 9oC and 62oC. Keep hot things hot and cold things cold and you will slow their growth and lower the risk of food poisoning
Your fridge should ideally be around 4 to 5oC. If you don't have an integrated temperature display, invest in a fridge thermometer and keep an eye on the temperature
Hot food should steam in the centre or even better invest in a probe. As a general rule two minutes at 70oC will reduce bacteria to a safe level.
Don't leave high risk food out at room temperature for long periods. Buffets shouldn't be left for more than four hours - including preparation time!
Avoid cross contamination
Raw foods naturally carry a certain amount of bacteria which will be killed off when they are cooked, but if these bacteria get onto ready to eat foods they may be eaten and cause illness.
Raw meat and fish should be kept at the bottom of the fridge so they don't drip juices on to ready to eat foods like sausage rolls, cheese, cooked meats or other foods which will not be cooked before eating.
Cover food to prevent unwanted drips and contamination
Use separate chopping boards and equipment such as knives for ready to eat and raw food.
Use separate cloths for different jobs - using the same cloth to wipe a surface where raw meat had been handled and then a clean surface will spread contamination. Single use cloths or kitchen roll are ideal.
Keep the kitchen clean
Bacteria need food to survive, by removing crumbs, grease and spills you reduce the amount of food available and decrease their chances of survival.
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- Clean as you go. Keeping up with the tidying means you are more likely to do it well, rather than leaving yourself one big mess to clean up when you finish.
- Use the right cleaning product for the job and always read the instructions - check your kitchen cleaning products are 'food safe'
- Keep pets out of the kitchen where possible.
A wealth of information on food poisoning and how to avoid it is available on the Food Standards Agency website.