Food poisoning linked with outdoor eating

Picnickers and barbecue enthusiasts have been warned by the Food Standards Agency they are more likely to risk food poisoning from the end of May, with an increase in outdoor eating, changes in eating habits for summer and the start of the holiday season.

The warning comes in time for the end of May bank holiday and the FSA is urging the public to take simple precautions to avoid food poisoning.

While it is generally recognised that cases of food related illnesses are greatly under reported, there were over 100,000 notified cases of food poisoning last year.

In the first week of January last year, over 1000 cases of food poisoning were recorded and the figure nearly doubled in May.

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Figures for England and Wales show the incidence of Campylobacter poisoning – one of the bugs most likely to make people ill – also peak around the end of May, with 1485 reported mid May last year, compared to 893 reports during the first week of the year.

Individuals infected by the bug experience stomach cramp, severe diarrhoea and feel generally unwell.

Campylobacter can be found in poultry, raw or undercooked meat, unpasteurised milk, bird pecked milk in bottles left on doorsteps, untreated water and domestic pets.

A combination of poor hygiene practices when preparing food and warmer weather, also create ideal conditions for other food bugs to multiply, e.g. Salmonella and E.coli, and make people ill. Poor personal hygiene can lead to them spreading from person to person.

The FSA has identified barbecues and other forms of outdoor eating as representing a particular risk. Board Member and Chef, Robert Rees says:

“Its not surprising we see a peak in food related illnesses at this time of the year. Many harmful bacteria grow in warmer conditions, turning our food into a potential health hazard. Summer is also the time when cooking and eating habits change with more picnics and barbecues being held.

“Barbecues are a particular problem because of the way raw meat is stored before and after it is cooked.

“It’s also difficult to tell when meat is cooked properly as it tends to brown quickly on the outside without cooking on the inside.

“Good preparation, prevention and cleanliness is what’s needed. Simple measures go a long way towards cutting down the risks.”

Barbecues have grown in popularity in the UK. An estimated 45,000 tonnes of charcoal are bought for barbecue use each year.

“Larger gatherings can be particulary challenging for hosts if they are not used to cooking for bigger groups of people”, says Robert Rees, “Keeping the menu simple and resisiting the temptation to serve food before it is properly cooked, will also help prevent the food bugs turn an enjoyable event into a disaster.”

The Agency is issuing advice on how to reduce risks from food prepared outdoors. Included in its top tips for food safety is:

  • Always wash your hands thoroughly – before preparing food and after touching raw meat

  • Keep and prepare raw meats including chicken separate from other foods, even when cooking, to avoid cross contamination

  • Always use separate utensils for raw and cooked meat

  • Cook all meat and meat products until they are piping hot and the juices run clear

  • Turn food regularly as it cooks to avoid charring on one side and undercooking on the other

  • Avoid cross contamination – keep raw meat separate from cooked and other food

  • Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold until it’s time to eat them – don’t leave them standing around

The FSA aims to reduce food borne illness by 20% over the next five years. Further information and advice can be found on the agency’s web site.


FSA board member and Chef, Robert Rees, is available for interview

Summer Eating

Top Tips for barbecues and outdoor eating

  • Wash hands thoroughly before preparing food and after touching raw meat

  • Thaw meat and poultry before cooking

  • Store, cook and prepare raw meats, including chicken, separate from other foods– even when cooking – to avoid cross contamination

  • Always use, where possible, separate utensils for raw and cooked meat

  • Cook all meat and meat products until they are piping hot and the juices run clear

  • Turn food regularly as it cooks to avoid charring on one side and under cooking on the other

  • Consider partially cooking meat and poultry indoors first then finish cooking it on the barbecue

  • Never part cook food on the barbecue and finish cooking later

  • Keep marinating meat and poultry in the fridge. Don’t reuse the marinade

  • Throw away barbecued food left out for more than two hours in very hot weather

  • Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold – don’t leave them standing around

  • Clean work surfaces and utensils during, before and after use

  • Keep pets away from food, dishes and preparation surfaces