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Food poisoning

Food contamination


Anyone who eats contaminated food can get food poisoning; however, vulnerable people are at higher risk of developing severe symptoms from unsafe food.

Food poisoning symptoms

Food poisoning is quite common and can be very serious. It can cause severe illness and sometimes even death.

The symptoms of food poisoning can be mild to severe, and can include:

  • diarrhoea
  • stomach cramps
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • fever
  • headaches
  • jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes).

Food poisoning symptoms can appear within an hour or two, but may take up to 36 hours to appear. Be aware that these symptoms can also be caused by food intolerances or other illnesses. It is best to seek medical advice if you have any of these symptoms.


Food poisoning bacteria

Food poisoning bacteria don’t affect the smell, taste or appearance of food.

  • food poisoning is caused by contaminated food that has been poorly handled, stored or not cooked properly
  • you cannot tell just by looking at a food whether it has been affected by food poisoning bacteria
  • you could easily transport, prepare or sell food without knowing that it could cause food poisoning.

It is important to take steps to prevent food from being contaminated in the first place.

Food spoilage

There is a difference between food that is spoiled and food that can cause food poisoning.

Food spoilage is obvious, for example sour milk, mouldy bread or soft slimy fruit and vegetables. As spoiled food is unfit to eat it should be thrown out.

Food spoilage can be prevented by:

  • rotating food using the first-in first-out rule to ensure that the first item purchased is the first consumed
  • storing food correctly, for example storing meat in the refrigerator or freezer
  • refrigerating, freezing, canning or vacuum packing food. 


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Which of the following groups has the lowest risk for food poisoning?

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