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Food Info - Operate

Food poisoning


Even food that looks, tastes and smells good can make you sick.

Food poisoning is caused by bacteria, natural toxins and chemicals. The most common cause is bacteria. Foodborne illness occurs when food poisoning bacteria contaminate food and multiply to dangerous levels, due to poor food handling and storage. In order to multiply to these levels, bacteria need food, warmth, moisture and time.

There are two types of bacteria: those that spoil food and those that cause food poisoning. Some people wrongly believe food poisoning bacteria will make food smell, taste and look bad. Harmless microbes can cause food to smell off, taste bad and look terrible – and still not make us ill. Food poisoning bacteria, however, is quite different.

Bacteria love to breed in high risk foods. High risk foods are likely to cause food poisoning if not stored, prepared or cooked properly. High risk foods include:

  • meat and poultry – bacteria such as Salmonella and E. Coli occur naturally in raw meat and poultry so ensure meats are thoroughly cooked to kill bacteria
  • gravy and stews – bacteria such as Clostridium perfringens, are a food poisoning bacteria commonly associated with these foods. Gravies prepared and cooled in large batches provide a perfect, warm environment for growth, and increase the risk of food poisoning. Divide into smaller batches to cool faster
  • milk, cream and egg products – the use of raw eggs and unpasteurised milk products, which may contain bacteria such as Salmonella, can cause food poisoning. Use only clean and uncracked eggs and pasteurised milk products
  • seafood – much of the seafood we eat is raw and not cooked before eating, so ensure seafood is stored at the right temperature to prevent food poisoning.


Ten common contributors to food poisoning

  • Inadequate refrigeration – store high risk food at 5˚C or less.
  • Food stored at room temperature – minimise the time high risk food is stored at room temperature (a maximum of 4 hours). 
  • Food prepared too far in advance – can increase the likelihood of contamination and time in the ‘danger zone’.
  • Inadequate cooling – cool food quickly in small batches.  
  • Inadequate re-heating – heat food quickly to over 60˚C to destroy bacteria.
  • Inadequate thawing – ensure raw meat such as poultry is thawed thoroughly so the cooking process heats the internal temperature to over 60˚C, destroying bacteria naturally present.
  • Poor housekeeping – clean premises reduce the number of bacteria that can be transferred during food preparation.
  • Cross contamination – staff with good food handling practices will reduce the likelihood of cross contamination. 
  • Contaminated processed food – use reputable suppliers to ensure you receive good quality food.
  • Poor personal hygiene – ensure staff know and practice good personal hygiene habits.


Seafood and food poisoning

Some types of fish and seafood have naturally occuring seafood toxins and indigestible oils which can cause food poisoning. These Queensland Health fact sheets will help you understand more about these types of food poisoning.