Food Safety - Food Poisoning

The main causes of food poisoning and food borne illness are:

  • Preparing foods too far in advance
  • Not cooking foods properly
  • Not defrosting foods correctly
  • Storing foods incorrectly (i.e. too warm) so that bacteria can grow quickly
  • Cross contamination of foods
  • Infection from people handling foods due to poor hygiene

Do not wash raw chicken, turkey or other poultry

Campylobacter is the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK.  Although thorough cooking kills campylobacter, it is not just poorly cooked poultry such as chicken and turkey that can spread it.  Splashing water from washing the meat can spread it as well.

Follow these 4 rules to prevent campylobacter causing food poisoning:-

  1. Cover and chill raw poultry (such as chicken and turkey).  Store it at the bottom of the fridge so juices cannot drip on other foods.
  2. Do not wash raw poultry. Cooking will kill any bacteria present but washing the meat before cooking can spread germs by splashing.
  3. Wash used utensils. Thoroughly wash and clean all utensils, chopping boards and surfaces used to prepare raw poultry. Also, wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm water after handling the meat.
  4. Cook poultry thoroughly. Make sure chicken, turkey and other poultry is steaming hot all the way through before serving. Cut into the thickest part of the meat and check it is steaming hot with no pink meat and that juices run clear.

Who is at risk?

We all are, but babies, young children and the elderly can very quickly become very ill when infected. Pregnant women, people who already have a pre-existing illness, and anyone whose immune system is weakened can also be seriously affected by food borne illness/food poisoning.

Main symptoms of Food-Borne Illness / Food Poisoning

  • Diarrhoea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Dizziness

There are many types of food borne illness/food poisoning caused by different bacteria. The most common include:


Symptoms include stomach cramps and severe diarrhoea but rarely vomiting. They can begin 2-10 days after eating contaminated food but usually within 2-5 days. Main sources are undercooked chicken and other meats, handling pets, cross-contamination to other foods, raw milk and contaminated water. This organism is the most common cause of acute diarrhoea in adults.


Symptoms include stomach pain, fever, diarrhoea and vomiting. It usually takes about 12-48 hours for the illness to develop. Symptoms can be much more severe in the young and elderly. Main sources are undercooked meat and poultry, untreated milk and raw or undercooked eggs. This organism is the second most common form of food poisoning.

E.coli 0157

Symptoms include severe bloody diarrhoea, and the infection can lead to serious kidney damage in children. Main sources are undercooked beefburgers and minced beef, contaminated cooked meats and unpasteurised milk. This organism has also been linked to farms.

Staphylococcus aureus

Symptoms include stomach pains and vomiting, 1-6 hours after eating and it usually takes 12-24 hours for symptoms to subside. This bacteria is found on humans (particularly in the nose, throat, skin and ears) and is transferred to food through poor hygiene practices.


Mild flu-like illness in healthy people, but which can cause septicaemia and meningitis in the young and elderly. Listeria can lead to stillbirth and miscarriage or meningitis in the new-born baby. Sources include unpasteurised soft cheeses (such as Brie and Camembert) and meat pates. Prevention of food poisoning from Listeria is more difficult than other organisms as it can multiply rapidly at refrigeration temperatures. It is recommended therefore that pregnant women do not eat the above products.


Follow the services Top Ten Tips to try and reduce food borne illness:

  • Wash hands thoroughly before handling food and always after handling raw meat, going to the toilet, blowing your nose or handling animals (including pets)
  • Keep food preparation surfaces and utensils clean and disinfected (e.g. use anti-bacterial products).
  • Prepare and store raw meat and 'ready-to-eat' food separately. Always keep raw and defrosting meat at the base of the refrigerator, below everything else.
  • Ensure that your refrigerator and freezer are operating properly, invest in a suitable thermometer. The refrigerator should operate at 5oC or lower and the freezer at -18oC or lower.
  • Check the 'Use by' dates on food and ensure that you use the food before the date expires.
  • Always store eggs in the refrigerator and do not eat food containing uncooked eggs.
  • Keep pets away from food and food preparation surfaces.
  • Defrost food, particularly meat and poultry thoroughly before cooking.
  • Cook food thoroughly. Follow the manufacturers' guidelines and ensure that food is piping hot throughout before consumption.
  • Cool food immediately after cooking and never allow it to be at room temperature for more than 4 hours. Always store left over food in the refrigerator as soon as it has cooled to room temperature

What to do if you have symptoms of food borne illness

Food borne illness/food poisoning can spread quickly, partly because everyone in the family could have eaten the same food and partly because the bacteria may be picked up by close family contact (e.g. nursing the sick). Viruses can also cause illness, similar to food poisoning and they also spread very quickly. If you suspect you are suffering from food borne illness/food poisoning it is recommended that you visit your doctor as soon as possible, who might ask you to submit a sample for examination. Samples are useful in that they might be able to show which food-borne illness/food poisoning you are suffering from, or could rule out a food-poisoning organism. Viruses can also be detected. Consult your doctor immediately if the person affected is a baby, elderly or has an existing illness or condition or if symptoms are prolonged or severe (e.g. bloody diarrhoea).

If you or a member of your family are suffering from the symptoms of food poisoning, it is recommended that you follow the advice below to try and prevent the spread of the illness:

  • Wash your hands after contact with the sick person, and before handling food.
  • Do not use the same towel or face cloth as someone who is suffering with food borne illness/food poisoning.
  • Clear up soiling accidents straightaway, wash with hot soapy water and disinfect with a disinfectant or bleach.
  • Disinfect door and toilet handles, taps and the toilet seat after use and disinfect the toilet bowl frequently.
  • Drink plenty of fluids while you are ill to prevent dehydration.

Frequently Asked Questions

I have become ill and think I have food poisoning after a restaurant/take-away meal, what can I do?

You should contact this service. They will also ask you a number of questions relating to other foods you may have eaten, places visited and your symptoms. Where appropriate officers will visit any suspected premises to carry out an inspection or take food samples for analysis you may need to provide a faecal sample for analysis. Leaflets giving information about food poisoning and how to prevent it are available from the Food Team. Further information is available on the Food Standards Agency (FSA) website.

How can I avoid food poisoning during barbecues (BBQ's) and summer events?

Food poisoning can often be caused due to bad practices at BBQ's. The FSA have produced a leaflet giving advice about this issue. Copies are available from the Food Team or from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) website.

Who investigates cases of infectious diseases?

Staff from the Food Team along with a Consultant in Communicable Diseases  from Public Health England investigate all infectious diseases.

Where can I get more information about infectious diseases?

UK Health Security Agency website


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