Food Poisoning - How to avoid it and what to do if it happens in your venue

24 April, 2013
Pat Perry

"Any pub, hotel or restaurant faces the risk of food poisoning and it's every owner/manager's job to ensure measures are taken to prevent it happening. Food poisoning is most commonly caused by simple mistakes and the lack of attention to detail regarding cleanliness, hygiene and routine" said Pat Perry, Executive Chairman at leading Health and Safety consultants, Perry Scott Nash.

Serving food comes with a responsibility to provide safe, healthy and clean produce. As an employer, you are responsible for putting procedures in place to ensure hygiene at all times, including appropriate training and high personal standards of all your employees regardless of whether they are full or part-time, casual or permanent staff.

It's important to know how bacteria can be spread in your establishment.

  • Badly controlled temperatures - bacteria grows and spreads best when warm and moist, but food that is left out of the fridge for too long, or not heated up to an appropriate temperature, is also at risk
  • Inefficient storage - food can become infected if handled incorrectly or left exposed to spores
  • Poor cleaning & hygiene - poor personal hygiene of employees can lead to contamination by a whole host of bacteria, whilst a poor cleaning routine can leave work surfaces swarming with germs
  • Inadequately trained staff - if routine cleaning and food preparation procedures are not followed by every member of the kitchen staff this can lead to a spread of bacteria

What are the main types of bacterial food poisoning, and where are they found?

  • Salmonella - raw meat, poultry, untreated milk, prepared food i.e, mince, egg mixes and mayonnaise.
  • Clostridium perfringens - soil, human & animal excrement, raw meat, poultry
  • Clostridium botulinum - soil, vegetables, fish, yoghurt, vaccum-packed products
  • Staphylococcus aureus - healthy skin, nose & throat, on septic skin sores
  • Bacillus cereus - soil where vegetables, rice, salad & cereals grow
  • Campylobacter - poultry, milk, meat, water, animals
  • Listeriosis (monocytogenes) - sewage, animal & human tissue, vegetation
  • Escherichia Coli (E. Coli) - human sewage, raw meat
  • Scombrotoxin - fish

What are the three key areas to watch to prevent the spread of bacteria and lower the risk of food poisoning?

Temperature Control

  • Store all chilled food at or below 8°C
  • Store all High Risk food at or below 5°C
  • Keep High Risk food out of the temperature Danger Zone i.e. between 8°C and 63°C


  • Keep food and food trays off the floor
  • Keep dry foods dry
  • Always store cooked meat and poultry above raw meat and poultry
  • Remove poor quality or damaged food promptly and keep it away from high risk foods


  • Adopt the correct clean as you go procedure for wiping up spillages on shelves and floors
  • Always use disposable paper towels, never wiping cloths to clean surfaces
  • Maintain the highest standard of personal hygiene at all times
  • Tidy and clean rubbish as you go - never allow rubbish to build up

If it all goes wrong: What should I do if I become aware of a food poisoning outbreak?

  • Stop serving any more food and stop any more food being eaten
  • Telephone a doctor or ambulance if necessary (if people are ill on the premises)
  • Retain any remaining food, cans, cartons or other forms of food packaging which may be needed to trace suspect foods
  • Telephone the Environmental Health Department to arrange for an investigation by an Environmental Health Officer or your Company's Consultants if you have them
  • Inform the owners of the business
  • Do not clean up until bacteriological investigations have been carried out
  • Prepare a relevant menu list and details of food preparation, storage temperatures, methods of cooking, cooling or reheating
  • If possible, make a complete list of persons consuming the suspect meal, including their addresses
  • Prepare a complete list of all food handlers and other staff, especially those involved with the suspect meal. Absent staff should be included, the reason for absence should be given
  • Prepare a list of suppliers
  • Remain available on the premises to give the necessary information to the investigating officer
  • When the investigation has been completed, thoroughly clean and disinfect the premises

According to Pat Perry: "The most important action is not to panic! Not all food poisoning outbreaks are caused because food handlers break the law by operating unsafe food handling practices. Sometimes, food poisoning is unavoidable and is outside of the control of the food business, like in the food chain, something that has had a lot of press in recent times. The cause of the outbreak could also be viral and may not be attributable to food handling practices. Either way, a thorough investigation should be able to identify the cause. It's also important to remember that it's easy for a customer to claim there's been a food poisoning case and without first class systems and due diligence you'll be hard pushed to fight your corner, so get your controls right now, for the sake of your customers and your business".

For more information on this or other matters relating to health and safety in the workplace Contact Us.


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