Want to know how to beat the kitchen killers? Here are the best ways to stay safe when cooking

The news is enough to put you off your Sunday roast.

We revealed that seven out of 10 supermarket chickens are contaminated with the potentially deadly campy­lo­bacter bug.

The Food Standards Agency, which tested 1,995 birds, now says tackling campylobacter is their No 1 food-safety priority.

Little wonder when the bug is the biggest cause of food poisoning in the UK, responsible for 280,000 cases of diarrhoea and vomiting each year and around 100 deaths.

Listeria Bacteria

Supermarkets have vowed to work towards a solution, but change will not happen overnight. And campylobacter is not the only danger lurking in our food.

Karen Meadows, an expert from the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health who runs food hygiene consultancy Safety In Action, reveals how to beat the killers in your kitchen...

Whole Raw Chicken

The FSA report doesn’t just point to campylobacter on chickens, but on the outside of the packaging too.

So with a pre-packed chicken you must treat the packaging as though you are touching the chicken itself.

Keep it separate from other food shopping and wrap it in a separate carrier bag.

Once home, don’t wash chicken or poultry – that will splash bacteria all over the kitchen and you won’t gain anything because bacteria are killed by cooking it properly.

On unwrapping, throw away the packaging at once and put the bird straight into whatever you’re cooking it in.

Then thoroughly wash your hands. It’s vital to cook chicken all through.

Pierce it at the thickest part, usually the thigh, and if the juices run clear and there is no blood on the surface, it should be cooked.

With steaks and whole joints of meat (not poultry, pork or rolled joints) cooking it rare is fine as the bacteria is only on the outside and is destroyed by cooking.

But mincing mixes bacteria from the outside throughout a burger and it will not be destroyed unless it is cooked all the way through.

With poultry bacteria can be in the flesh itself, so it must be cooked through.


Foods such as mussels, clams and oysters that are alive when you buy them must be checked before cooking.

Tap the shell and if it doesn’t close throw it away because it is probably towards the end of its life or already dead and can cause illness if you eat it.

Also junk any that don’t open up during cooking.

Shellfish get food by filtering water through the digestive system, which we then eat.

It can harbour bacteria and viruses from the water where the creature lived, risking contamination.

Vulnerable people such as pregnant women, children, those with low immunity and the elderly should avoid raw shellfish.

The most common threat is from viruses.

A study funded by the Food Standards Agency found three-quarters of oysters from UK beds contained norovirus, although half were at low levels.

Bowl of basmati rice

Uncooked rice can contain spores called bacillus cereus.

If cooked rice is left at room temperature the spores can multiply, producing toxins that can cause vomiting and diarrhoea.

Reheating the rice, even correctly, will not kill the toxins.

So cooked rice must be cooled rapidly by rinsing in cool water and quickly refrigerated or frozen.

Don’t keep it in the fridge for longer than 24 hours.


Veg are not as innocuous as many people think.

It depends on who picked them, where they were picked, and how you prepare them. Peel before eating to remove potential contaminants.

You wouldn’t eat soil from the garden and eating unwashed root veg is almost the same.

You are at risk from bacterium such as listeria, also found in animal waste.

With fruit and veg from abroad, you don’t know what standards apply. Growers could be putting human sewage on the fields, bringing a risk of pathogens.

However most supermarkets audit their suppliers to ensure standards are maintained.

Follow the packaging instructions. If it says to wash before consumption, do it.

Use-by-dates on food such as ham are fine if the pack is still sealed.

Once it’s open, you are often told to eat it within a specific period such as 24 hours.

It’s important to check or you could fall ill. You can’t necessarily smell or see bacteria so your senses don’t tell you if it’s dangerous or not.

With tins, never buy them dented, even if there is 50% off.

A dent can cause a very small hole that lets in bacteria or oxygen to spoil or contaminate the food.

If you don’t use all a tin’s contents, store the rest in a lidded container and refrigerate, especially tomatoes and acidic foods that can make the tins rusty and cause metal contamination.

Some people wipe tins before putting them away as they don’t know what might be lurking on the outside.


It’s important to keep a fridge at the right temperature, especially at this time of year when you start ramming in more things in the run-up to Christmas.

A fuller fridge has a higher temperature and food won’t be kept at the ideal temperture (below 5C) to stop bacteria growing.

So don’t overfill, and  regulate the temperature using a simple fridge thermometer.

Think about how you store food. Put raw items, especially fruit, in the bottom so it can’t drop on to other food.

If you have a small or shared fridge and can’t layer food , wrap it well to stop contamination.

Don’t put hot food in the fridge to cool. This can raise the fridge temperature so that bacteria already present will start  multiplying again.

Interior of the shark house in Headington, Oxford

Everyone’s home has plenty of places for bugs to grow and surfaces often cause cross-contamination.

Wash with hot soapy water then sanitise with products from the supermarket.

And always follow the instructions.

Some must be left on for a certain time before being wiped off and others should be sprayed and left on.

Don’t forget to sanitise sinks as well as taps.

And clean dishcloths very well or use kitchen roll.

Screwed up and left on the edge of a sink, cloths can be a reservoir for bacteria because they are warm, damp and more than likely have food on them.

Using them can spread bacteria on a surface instead of cleaning it.

Woman washing hands

Wash hands with warm soapy water before cooking and clean everywhere, including around the fingernails and in the thumb crease.

Make sure cuts on your hands are covered with a plaster.

It’s not there to protect the cut but to protect the food from whatever’s in the cut.

A bacteria called staphylococcus aureus is common and already present on your skin’s surface.

But it can multiply in cuts, which can become infected. If that is transferred on to the food, it can cause vomiting quite quickly.