How is Food Poisoning Caused?

Food poisoning is caused by the contamination of food via biological, chemical, physical and cross contaminated germs. Food poisoning can be very unpleasant and can be transferred between people. Therefore, it is important to understand how food poisoning occurs and how it can be avoided.

Food poisoning is caused by the contamination of food by bacteria, viruses and germs during the food production journey, from the growing of food to the serving of food. Food can be contaminated by physical, biological or chemical germs, which can grow and multiply on food and then affect our bodies once the contaminated food has been consumed. The Food Standards Agency in the UK ensures that food businesses conduct their food safety and hygiene practices appropriately, to ensure that consumers are protected from food poisoning.

Foods which are commonly contaminated:

  • Raw meat
  • Undercooked meat
  • Seafood
  • Raw eggs
  • Unpasteurised milk
  • Soft cheese

However, most foods can be contaminated if they are handled incorrectly. Therefore, knowing how to protect the food you are handling and consuming is of the utmost importance.

How is food poisoning caused?

  • Food is not cooked thoroughly, until the core temperature reaches 75°C or 70°C for at least 2 minutes.
  • Food is re-heated, but not to piping hot throughout, and therefore bacteria remains.
  • Food has not been stored correctly. If food needs to be refrigerated, it must be kept between the temperature of 0°C and 5°C. Refrigerators should therefore be set at 3°C or 4°C.
  • An individual handles food without washing their hands or whilst wearing dirty clothes, allowing pathogens to transfer onto the food.
  • Food is left out on the side for too long, in ideal growth conditions for bacteria to multiply on the food.
  • Food is consumed after the “Use By” date.

Physical Contamination

Physical contamination occurs when harmful, physical objects contact food.

Physical objects which can contaminate our food include:

  • Glass
  • Human hair or animal hair
  • Plastic
  • Plasters
  • Metal
  • Fingernails
  • Jewellery

Biological Contamination

Biological contamination is the contamination of food by living organisms such as bacteria or viruses.

Bacteria includes:

  • Salmonella
  • Escherichia coli (E. coli)
  • Campylobacter
  • Listeria

Viruses include:

  • Norovirus
  • Hepatitis A and E
  • Rotavirus

Chemical Contamination

Various forms of chemical products can contact food throughout the food production journey.

Chemical products include:

  • Pest control products which land on surrounding food.
  • Pesticides which are used on growing plant foods, which is a major source of chemical contamination.
  • Kitchen cleaning products which are sprayed and land on surrounding food.
  • Artificial chemical substances.

The UK Food Standards Agency

The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) enforce regulations which food businesses are obliged to follow when they provide food to consumers. The FSA investigate 600,000 food business in the UK, along with local authorities to inspect the food hygiene practices which take place. If a food business is producing food which could potentially cause food poisoning to consumers, the FSA will prosecute the firm. This prosecution can result in fines, closure of the business, negative media attention and for individuals, imprisonment.

In August 2018, John and Susan Cooper died under suspicious circumstances after visiting a Thomas Cook hotel in Egypt, the Steigenberger Aqua Magic Hotel. Prior to the passing of the couple, there had been numerous complaints regarding the food hygiene standards of the hotel, which were tremendously low, with reports of undercooked meat and many illnesses as a result. Therefore, it was suspected that the couple’s death could have been related to poor food hygiene levels in the hotel.

Food poisoning often can be treated with home-remedies. However, sometimes it can be far more serious and require urgent medical attention. Therefore, it is important to understand how food poisoning is caused and how to avoid it as far as possible.

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