How can we prevent food poisoning? The key points to remember are:
- Cook food all the way through, especially meat.
- To refrigerate or not to refrigerate? Read food packaging and observe food storage guidelines.
- Wash hands before and after cooking, and avoid handling food if you’re unwell.
- Keep surfaces and equipment clean with a disinfectant spray.
- Store raw meat, seafood and vegetables in sealed containers in the fridge, well away from ready-to-eat foods.
Nausea, vomiting, fever, chills, diarrhoea, and stomach pain – the symptoms of food poisoning are enough to put you off eating for a while. But it doesn’t have to be that way. With 500,000 Brits falling victim every year, learning the causes of food poisoning (and adopting a few simple kitchen practices to avoid it) can let you enjoy food without the fear.
So, what is food poisoning?
When food is prepared or stored in the wrong way, it can become contaminated by harmful bacteria, as can the kitchen surfaces and tools around it. If those bacteria find their way into your meals, you can become ill.
Food poisoning usually rears its ugly head after one or two days. It’s not pretty, but luckily most of the time the experience is short-lived, petering out after a few days.
What is food poisoning caused by?
The root causes of food poisoning vary. The campylobacter bacteria found in raw meat is the most common culprit in the UK, accounting for around 280,000 cases of food poisoning a year. E. coli, listeria, salmonella, viruses, and (very, very rarely) parasites are other causes.
These nasties can make their way into your food when you:
- Eat undercooked food, usually meat
- Keep food that needs to be cold in a warm area
- Let cooked food sit outside the fridge for too long
- Allow cross-contamination – this is when harmful bacteria is transferred between food, worktops, and cooking equipment
- Eat food that’s been touched by someone who’s ill, or who’s been spending time with someone who is ill.
How can we prevent food poisoning?
Preventing food poisoning isn’t too tricky. It all comes down to the Food Standards Agency’s four Cs: Cooking, Cleaning, Chilling, and Cross-Contamination (or rather, preventing it).
Cooking to prevent food poisoning
Cooking food helps kill off harmful bacteria. This is especially important when it comes to meat and seafood.
- Beef and lamb don’t need to be cooked all the way through as long as they’re prepared hygienically
- Pork and chicken need to be completely cooked – piping hot all the way through with no pink meat visible when it is sliced into.
- For seafood, it will depend on the type and freshness of the fish. Check the packet guidelines, or discuss it with your fishmonger if you’re buying over a counter.
Cleaning to prevent food poisoning
Observing proper hygiene, for yourself and your kitchen surfaces and equipment, can help tackle common causes of food poisoning. Wash your hands thoroughly before and after you cook, and if you’re ill then stay away from the kitchen – let someone else treat you to a meal instead.
Chilling to prevent food poisoning
Sadly, this doesn’t mean relaxing with a glass of wine and Netflix – although you’re completely within your rights to do that as well. Keeping food at the right temperature can help prevent the growth and spread of bacteria. So:
- When you bring your shopping home, check the food labels to find out how to store it
- Once you open a packet or jar, check the labels again when putting it away – some things will need a new home
- Finally, once you’ve cooked a meal, put anything you’re planning to eat on another occasion in the fridge, ideally within an hour or two.
Even if you are doing all of the above, you can still be at risk from cross-contamination. The key points to remember are:
- Keep raw meat and seafood well away from other foods in the fridge. Place in sealed containers on the lowest shelf
- When you’re prepping your ingredients, use separate utensils, chopping boards, and plates for raw meat/seafood and vegetables
- Wash all your cooking equipment and plates very thoroughly in hot water with a reliable detergent, like Persil dishwashing liquid
- Your cleaning cloths and sponges also need to be clean so wash them regularly in water that is as hot as possible. This can be done in either the sink or the machine
- Use a multi-purpose disinfecting kitchen spray like Cif or Domestos on your worktops both before and after preparing food.
What to do if you have food poisoning
According to the NHS, if you’re struck down with food poisoning, it’s best to rest at home and drink plenty of water. Frequent yet small, light, and dry meals are your friend.
However, if your symptoms are severe, or they last longer than a few days, it’s best to get in touch with your GP. Likewise, if you’re pregnant, over 60, or have a pre-existing medical condition, it’s better to be safe than sorry and book a visit to the doctor’s surgery.