Poor food safety practices greatly increase the risk of contaminating food and causing food poisoning.
Foodborne disease is also a major cause of illness in the UK population. Food poisoning is unpleasant, causes serious illness and may even lead to death. It also places a significant burden on the economy through loss of earnings and days lost to sickness.
Most people believe food poisoning comes from restaurants, cafes and fast food outlets, but according to the FSA, a person is as likely to get ill from food prepared at home (NHS Choices, 2016). Good food safety is therefore equally important in the home as it is in commercial settings.
Key inequalities and risk factors
In order to identify specific target groups for future interventions, the Food Standards Agency Food and You Survey 2014 report noted a number of potential inequalities:
- Gender - men more likely than women to report having had food poisoning more than once (20% compared with 13%), and women were more likely to say that they had gone to see a doctor (28%) if they had had food poisoning in the last year than men (11%)
- Age - Respondents aged 75 and over were least likely to report having ever experienced food poisoning (23%) followed by those aged 16-24 (29%), while 44% of respondents aged 25-64 reported ever having had food poisoning
- Household composition - Respondents with children in the household were more likely to report having experienced food poisoning (42% of those with children aged 16 or under in the household, and 47% of those in households with children aged under six) than those in households with no children (37%)
- Household income – Those with an annual household income above £26,000 were more likely (44%) than those in households with incomes below £26,000 to report experiencing food poisoning (35%)
- Occupation - managerial / professional households were more likely to report having had food poisoning (45%) than those in intermediate (39%) or routine / manual households (33%)
- Employment status – people in employment were more likely to report having experienced food poisoning (44%) than those who were retired (31%)
According to NHS Choices, most people recover from food poisoning within a few days without treatment, however, certain people experience higher risk, mostly resulting from dehydration: and include:
- pregnant women
- people over 60
- babies or young children
- people with a long-term underlying condition, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), heart valve disease, diabetes or kidney disease
- people with a weak immune system – for example, because of medication, cancer treatment or HIV
Facts, figures and trends
Food contamination is usually caused by bacteria, but it can also sometimes be caused by viruses or parasites. NHS Choices lists the main sources of contamination:
- Campylobacter - bacteria are usually found on raw or undercooked meat (particularly poultry), unpasteurised milk and untreated water is the most common
- Salmonella - bacteria often found in raw or undercooked meat, raw eggs, milk, and other dairy products and causes the most hospital admissions
- Listeria - bacteria found in a range of chilled, "ready-to-eat" foods, including pre-packed sandwiches, cooked sliced meats and pâté, and soft cheeses (such as Brie or Camembert) accounts for a small number of illnesses but has greater fatality rates
- Escherichia coli (E. coli) – bacteria can be found in a wide range of foods but is usually associated with eating undercooked beef mince, burgers or meatballs, drinking unpasteurised milk, or inadequately washed raw vegetables and salads
- Shigella – bacteria are usually found when foods or water is contaminated or passed from person to person
In the UK around 1 million people suffer food poisoning annually, with around 20,000 people receiving hospital treatment as a result. Around 500 deaths are caused annually by food borne illness and it is estimated to cost the UK economy over £1.5 billion a year (Food Standards Agency, 2011 (accessed 5 July 2016)).
The best way to avoid getting food poisoning is to ensure you maintain high standards of personal and food hygiene when storing, handling and preparing food, and to cook foods thoroughly.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) recommends remembering the "four Cs":
- cross-contamination (avoiding it)
Food safety standards
The Foodborne Disease Strategy (2010-15) is the Food Standards Agency overall strategy to put in place regulation and enforcement to ensure:
- food produced or sold in the UK is safe to eat
- food producers and caterers give priority to consumer interests in relation to food
- consumers have the information and understanding they need to make informed choices about where and what they eat
This includes regulation for food producers, commercial food premises and home food users. Guidance and legislation details how food businesses (including charities) should operate and food standards are enforced by officers from local councils.
The Local Council’s assess and rate commercial premises for food safety on a scale of 0-5, and publish their findings on the Food Standards Agency website.
At July 2016, just over 60% of food outlets in Bracknell Forest received a food hygiene rating of 5 (very good). Approximately 4% have been rated as ‘major improvement required’ (1) and just 0.2% is shown for ‘urgent improvement required’ (0). July 2016 data for those within the scheme:
Protecting consumer interests
Bracknell Forest Council carries out regular checks on all food premises to ensure the public is protected and that high standards are maintained.
In relation to our food hygiene work, the council’s, priorities are to focus resources on those businesses that provide the greatest risk and also to meet the Food Standards Agency’s inspection targets. We additionally provide advice and assistance to any business setting up that would like it in order to help them make the best start possible. However, this does not routinely include additional advisory visits to businesses.. Whilst we will provide advice to anyone who needs it, we only visit people’s homes to provide advice to individuals under exceptional circumstances.
Environmental Health Officers at the Council work with food premises and areas of concern are addressed, advice and guidance is provided and formal enforcement is taken if necessary.
Actions and decisions are based on the national Food Standards Agency (FSA) regulation and guidance and the council’s enforcement policy. Cases of food poisoning are investigated, and advice and guidance is provided as appropriate.
In 2013-14, there were 2,605 hospital admissions with a main diagnosis of Campylobacter accounting for a total of 17,197 bed days. There were there were 453 hospital admissions with a main diagnosis related directly to salmonella gastroenteritis, although admissions with a diagnosis related to salmonella causes the most hospital admissions – about 2,500 each year in total.
Want to know more?
Campylobacter ‘ACT’ campaign (Food Standards Agency) – a campaign to bring together the whole food chain to reduce levels of campylobacter in chicken and to reduce the burden of foodborne illness in the UK.
Food and You Survey 2014 (Food Standards Agency, 2014) – biennial survey used to collect information about reported behaviours, attitudes and knowledge relating to food issues. Covers food purchasing, storage, preparation, consumption and factors that may affect these, such as eating habits, influences on where respondents choose to eat out and experiences of food poisoning.
Foodborne Disease Strategy (2010-15) (FSA, 2011) – strategy to put in place regulation and enforcement to ensure food is safe to eat and consumer interests are protected.
Food Standards Agency (FSA, 2016) – website offering advice and guidance for food business, industry and premises, enforcement and regulation and science and research.
Reducing the Risk of Vulnerable Groups Contracting Listeriosis Food Standards Agency (2016) - guidance for healthcare and social care organisations to help reduce the risk of vulnerable people within their care contracting listeriosis. Following the steps provided in the guidance will also help reduce risks from other foodborne pathogens.
This page was created on 27 February 2014 and updated on 15 July 2016.
Cite this page:
Bracknell Forest Council. (2016). JSNA – Food safety. Available at: jsna.bracknell-forest.gov.uk/people-places/wider-determinants-health/environment/food-safety (Accessed: dd Mmmm yyyy)
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