Preventing food poisoning 

The best way to avoid getting food poisoning is to ensure you maintain high standards of food hygiene when storing, handling and preparing food.

According to the Food Standards Agency (FSA), a useful way of preventing food poisoning is to remember the four Cs:

  • cleaning
  • cooking
  • chilling
  • cross-contamination (avoiding it)

It's also recommended that you stick to a food’s ‘use by’ date and the storage instructions on the packet.

These steps are important because things such as a food's appearance and smell are not a reliable way of telling if it's safe to eat.


You can prevent the spread of harmful bacteria and viruses by maintaining good personal hygiene standards and keeping work surfaces and utensils clean.

Regularly wash your hands with soap and warm water, particularly:

  • after going to the toilet
  • after handling raw food
  • before preparing food
  • after touching bins
  • after touching pets

You should never handle food if:

  • you are ill with stomach problems, such as diarrhoea or vomiting
  • you have sores and cuts (unless they are covered with a waterproof dressing)


It is important to cook food thoroughly, particularly poultry, pork, burgers, sausages and kebabs. This will kill any harmful bacteria that may be present, such as listeria and salmonella.

Make sure the food is cooked thoroughly and is steaming hot in the middle. To check that meat is cooked, insert a knife into the thickest or deepest part. It is fully cooked if the juices are clear and there is no pink or red meat. Some meat, such as steaks and joints (but not rolled joints) of beef or lamb, can be served rare (not cooked in the middle), as long as the outside has been cooked properly.

When reheating food, make sure it is steaming hot all the way through. Do not reheat food more than once.


Certain foods need to be kept at the correct temperature to prevent harmful bacteria from growing and multiplying. Always check the storage instructions on the label.

If food has to be refrigerated, set your fridge to 0–5°C (32–41°F).

If food that needs to be chilled is left at room temperature, bacteria can grow and multiply to dangerous levels.

Cooked leftovers should be cooled quickly, ideally within 1–2 hours, and put in your fridge or freezer. Dividing food into smaller amounts and putting it into shallow containers will speed up the cooling process.


Cross-contamination occurs when bacteria are transferred from foods (usually raw foods) to other foods. Contamination can be:

  • direct – where one food touches or drips onto another food
  • indirect – where bacteria on your hands, work surfaces, equipment or utensils are spread to food

To prevent cross-contamination:

  • always wash your hands after handling raw food
  • store raw and ready-to-eat foods separately
  • store raw meat in sealable containers at the bottom of your fridge so that it cannot drip onto other foods
  • use a different chopping board for raw food and ready-to-eat food, or wash it thoroughly in between preparing different types of food
  • clean knives and other utensils thoroughly after using them with raw food
  • do not wash raw meat or poultry – any harmful bacteria will be killed by thorough cooking, and washing may splash harmful bacteria around the kitchen

Food hygiene abroad

Always practise good food and water hygiene when you are abroad.

This is particularly important when visiting areas where standards of public hygiene are low, such as in some African and Asian countries.

Check the health advice of the countries you are travelling to by visiting the NHS Fit for Travel website.

Read more about food and water abroad

Page last reviewed: 27/03/2013

Next review due: 27/03/2015