Young people could be putting themselves at risk of food poisoning because of their lack of basic food hygiene knowledge, according to a recent survey.

The results coincide with the start of term at most UK universities when many new students will be living away from home for the first time. Many of these young people will be having to store, prepare and cook their own food for the first time and may be unaware of basic food hygiene.

According to a survey by the Food and Drink Federation, which has organised National Food Safety Week, over half (61%) of 15 to 24-year-olds do not always follow manufacturers' instructions when preparing food; one in four (25%) even admit to sometimes eating food past its use by date; and when asked to name something that could cause food poisoning, less than one in ten (7%) named "undercooked food".

Eating undercooked poultry and rare minced products such as burgers and sausages is a major cause of food poisoning and in total it is estimated that there are up to 4.5 million cases of food poisoning in the UK each year.

Dirty hands are another major cause of food poisoning. Some germs can stay alive on hands for up to three hours, spreading to anything with which they come into contact. Nearly one in three (29%) 15 to 24-year-olds don't always wash their hands before preparing food and more than one in ten (12%) don't always wash their hands after using the toilet.

"It's not always easy moving away from home and having to cook, store and prepare food for yourself for the first time. Remembering a few basic, simple food hygiene skills such as using separate chopping boards for raw meats and vegetables or cooked foods, washing your hands before preparing food and knowing what temperature to keep your fridge at could mean the difference between a fun first few weeks at university and ones where you're sick and missing out," said Martin Paterson, director of the FDF's foodlink programme.