The hidden kitchen dangers that can cause sickness and even miscarriage

From vegetables that carry an E.coli risk to bacteria that could lead to miscarriage, many hidden dangers lurk in our kitchens.

It’s an essential room in the home, but one that can cause sickness – if the proper steps aren’t taken with food , appliances and other items.

We got the lowdown on what you need to look out for from Rod Blessitt, the principal environmental health officer at Southwark Council, London.

He said: "It’s about controlling the hygiene of the area you are working in.

"Take any market area – that’s an environment with pigeons, possibly rats – but do we stop those catering businesses? No.

"Because as long as they control hygiene in a small local environment in terms of cross contamination and food temperature it is going to be fine."

We made our way around the kitchen with Rod, as he advised what to look out for.

Fridge and Freezer

"Most things are perfectly safe in your fridge and freezer if you keep them at the right temperature," said Rod.

For the fridge, this is between 5C and 7C.

And for the freezer, it is between -18C and -15C.

Cooked meats

"With things like cooked ham you have to be careful once you’ve opened the packet – one of the main reasons for this is Listeria [bacteria]," he said.

"This is a real risk for the elderly and it may cause miscarriage in pregnant women.

"So you need to check the guidance on the packet about how quickly to eat it after opening – it’s usually only a few days.

"The minute you open it the best before date ceases to be applicable because oxygen gets inside and that is what a lot of the dangerous bacteria thrive on."

Organising your food

"The basic principal in your fridge is raw meat will potentially contaminate anything underneath – so always store that at the bottom," Rod explained.

"With both your fridge and freezer ensure you have it at the right temperature of course but also dont over-fill them and let air circulate – as that could mean food doesn’t chill or freeze as quickly otherwise."

Oven and Hob /Cooking


"When it comes to frozen foods you need to be sure if you’re following a recipe that you take into account the extra time it will take to get that food from frozen to safely cooked," said the environmental health officer.

"As a general rule, it’s better to allow a day or two to thoroughly de-frost bulky foods such as meat and poultry joints in your fridge, and to then cook them from chilled.

"It reduces your energy costs as well. Obviously, some foods are specifically intended to be cooked from frozen – for these, the key safety rule is to follow the instructions on the packaging."


"Things like pork and chicken need to be cooked all the way through -which you can usually tell by seeing clear juices coming from them," said Rod.

Four food myths BUSTED

Rod Blessitt, Southwark Council’s principal environmental health officer gives us the lowdown on which kitchen food prep ‘facts’ are complete rubbish…

1. Wash chicken before cooking

"Just don’t. Harmful bacteria in chicken goes all the way inside the bird or filet so not only will this splash potentially harmful bacteria around your kitchen sink it’s completely poitnless.

"The main issue with poultry is Campylobacter. Although the Industry, and the Food Standards Agency, have made some progress in reducing Campylobacter, it remains a significant risk.

"In years past, it was Salmonella, but that is greatly reducing now."

2. The five second rule

"It’s garbage. As soon as something hits a surface with anything harmful on it it will be immediately transferred over – picking it up within five seconds definitely won’t prevent the contamination from happening."

3. Serious food poisoning comes on fast

"Food poisoning from Campylobacter takes between two to five days.

"For other common food poisonings, typical incubation may be anything from a few hours to 48 hours, depending on the organism.

"When the symptoms of food poisoning start, (vomiting, diarrhoea, etc.), most people will automatically assume that it was the food they ate most recently, that is the cause.

"Sometimes they might be correct – but more often, they will be wrong; the real cause might be a meal they ate two or three days earlier.

"It’s different with things like allergies – they do come on very very quickly.

"And I’m not saying that food can’t have other things there that make you ill – but it is unlikely it’s food poisoning.

"The bacteria that cause ‘spoilage’ (when the food looks and smells ‘off’), might make the food very unpleasant to eat, but these organisms are not actually food poisoning bacteria.

"A lot of people will think they have food poisoning, when what they actually have is norovirus.

"This is very transmissible, and can be extremely common, particularly during the winter months.

"It usually only lasts 24 hours, whereas some of the more serious types of food poisoning can last for many days, or even weeks.

"Norovirus can be transferred through food – but often, it’s nothing to do with food at all."

4. The worry about reheating rice is an old wives’ tale

"Nope. It can be harmful.

"There are a few bacteria that can form heat resistant spores – one is Bacillus cereus, that is sometimes present in rice.

"The time it takes to cook rice may be short enough for heat-resistant spores of the bacteria to survive.

"As we cool the rice down we may have a few of these spores still in there – but as long as we cool it quickly and get it in fridge it will be fine.

"But if we leave it to cool and it sits at kitchen temperature for long periods, those spores turn back into active bacteria.

"The conditions within the rice, (warm temperature, moisture, and high protein), are ideal for rapid bacterial growth.

"Under favourable conditions, food poisoning organisms such as Bacillus cereus can double in number every 20 minutes.

"Within a few hours, thousands can turn into tens of millions.

"You can flush it with water to cool it – although that’ll wash the starch out.

"This bacteria ALSO gives off a chemical toxin which is heat stable, so if you’ve made your mistakes somewhere in the processing stage with the rice, and the bacterium has survived, then the re-heating process will not remove the toxin."

"Any risky bacteria in these is usually killed off at between 70C and 75C.

"The risky bacteria that we’re talking about is all the way through those meats – which is why they need to be cooked through."

"With red meat joints the contamination will only be on the outside surface which is why you can serve them rare – As long as enough heat is applied to the outside you will be ok .

"But you have to be careful when it comes to burgers, and sausages , boned-and- rolled joints, any other red meats where they have been minced and therefore the outside has been brought into the middle."

Root vegetables

"Raw vegetables and particularly raw root vegetables – things like carrots, potatoes, parsnips – anything that comes out of the ground -carry an ecoli risk," he explained.

"This is particularly true when soil is still visible on the surface.

"Soil links to ecoli so it’s safe to assume there’s a risk of ecoli on the outside of these vegetables.

"So what you shouldn’t do is prepare your raw root veg on the same boards as you’re doing your salads as you could pass this on."

The Sink / Washing-up

Cloths and tea towels

"The key thing here is to keep cloths and tea towels dry," said Rod.

"Most harmful bacteria loves wet conditions and do not like dry things – which is interestingly why they don’t grow on biscuits.

"Tea towels can be perfectly safe, but it’s always best to let them dry completely between uses, and to change them frequently. They should also be washed on a hot cycle, (60 o C or above).

"One tip for cleaning a sponge that may be smelling a bit is to immerse it in boiling water for a few minutes, to get a bit longer out of them."


" Even the best dishwashers only go to 60C and 70C on a usual wash (most harmful bacteria in pork and chicken is killed at 70C-75C) so I would recommend that if you’ve chopped up raw chicken just to give the board a quick anti-bacterial spray," he explained.

"There is nothing wrong with domestic dishwashers of course (although commercial ones are faster and go up to 85C) but if you want a little more peace of mind that’s what I what recommend.

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