Summer food poisoning risk

Cook it thoroughly: Your barbecue could make you very ill
Cook it thoroughly: Your barbecue could make you very ill
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Holidaymakers head off to foreign climes fretting about the threat of food poisoning marring their break.

But you’re just as likely to succumb at home this summer.

There are around a million cases of food poisoning every year in the UK – with around 120,000 extra cases from June to the end of August.

Barbecues and outdoor eating can be major culprits. Meat is often not cooked through thoroughly and leftovers not stored away in the fridge can be a harvesting ground for bacteria.

But many of those staying at home to save money are risking their health by ignoring simple advice, say the government’s food watchdog.

Hard-up families are now ignoring use-by dates on food, according to research published by the Food Standards Agency.

Researchers found that a third of people were more likely to judge when food was safe to eat by its smell, look or how long it had been stored than by its use-by date.

Bob Martin, a food safety expert at the FSA, said: “It’s tempting to just give your food a sniff to see if you think it’s gone off, but food bugs like E coli and salmonella don’t cause food to smell off, even when they may have grown to dangerous levels.

“The ‘best before’ date relates to food quality and can be treated flexibly and ‘display until’ dates are there to help shop staff to manage stock.

“But it’s very important you stick to a ‘use-by’ date. It’s a safety limit that you really shouldn’t go beyond.

“It’s possible to get food poisoning from eating food just a day after its use-by date.”

“When milk goes off it’s obvious from the smell that it’s not right.

“But other milk products, like clotted cream and yoghurt, can look and smell OK but have dangerous bugs growing in them,” says Bob Martin.

And your barbecue could be making you ill.

Food from animal sources such as raw meat and poultry are the biggest food poisoning offenders.

Cooking kills most bacteria but with sausages or burgers, for example, contamination can go all the way through and thorough cooking is essential, explains Dr Melita Gordon, a consultant gastroenterologist at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital.

Chicken has nooks and crannies where bacteria can hide – part of the reason there are 700,000 cases of campylobacter poisoning a year in the UK, says Dr Gordon.

She recommends chicken should be thoroughly cooked in the oven before putting it on a barbecue.

Foods like shellfish can contain toxins which are not killed by heat, though – and however thoroughly you cook it, you will still be ill after eating it.