Preventing food poisoning 

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

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) recommends remembering 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 aren't 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 or changing a baby's nappy
  • before preparing food
  • after handling raw food
  • after touching bins or pets

You shouldn't handle food if you are ill with stomach problems, such as diarrhoea or vomiting or you have any uncovered sores or cuts.


It's important to cook food thoroughly, particularly meat and most types of seafood, to kill any harmful bacteria that may be present.

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 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. Don't 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, make sure your fridge is set to 0–5C (32–41F).

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 a couple of hours, and put in your fridge or freezer.


Cross-contamination is when bacteria are transferred from foods (usually raw foods) to other foods.

This can occur when one food touches or drips onto another food, or when 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: 23/02/2015

Next review due: 23/02/2017