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Storing and preparing food safely

Many of us assume that food poisoning comes from cafés and restaurants, but we’re just as likely to get ill from food prepared at home.

Food poisoning can be more than just unpleasant – it can make us seriously ill.

There are a number of bacteria that can cause food poisoning, but those of us over 60 are particularly vulnerable to the severe form of food poisoning caused by a type of bacteria called listeria. It’s rare, but severe cases can be life-threatening.

Listeria can live and grow in food and is most likely to be found in chilled ready-to-eat foods, such as paté, soft cheeses such as Brie and Camembert, cooked sliced meat and poultry, smoked salmon and pre-packed sandwiches made with these fillings.

A few simple precautions can prevent food poisoning:

  • Set your fridge temperature to 5°C or below. This helps stop food-poisoning bacteria from growing. Bring chilled foods home from the shops as quickly as possible and transfer them straight to the fridge.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly before handling any food and after handling raw food (such as meat, poultry, eggs, fish) and its packaging. 
  • Wash worktops with hot soapy water or an antibacterial cleaning spray before and after preparing food.
  • Use a separate chopping board for raw meat. It can contain harmful bacteria that transfers easily to anything it touches.
  • Don’t wash raw meat such as chicken before cooking it – it isn’t necessary and can splash germs onto sinks and work surfaces. Thorough cooking will kill any bacteria present.
  • Cover raw meat, poultry and fish, and keep it on the bottom shelf of the fridge, where it can’t touch other foods or drip on to them.
  • Cook food thoroughly until it’s piping hot. Chicken, pork, burgers, sausages and kebabs should be cooked all the way through with no pink meat inside.
  • Don’t refreeze raw food that has already thawed. Prepare and eat it, or throw it away.
  • If you cook extra portions of food to eat later, cool them at room temperature for about an hour then put them in the fridge. Reheat food thoroughly until piping hot, and never reheat more than once.
  • Avoid dishes containing raw eggs, such as homemade mousse or mayonnaise. Always cook eggs well until the yolk is solid. Raw or lightly cooked eggs can contain salmonella, a harmful bacteria. Older people are more likely than others to become severely ill if they eat contaminated eggs.

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Further information


Our Information guides are short and easy to digest, giving a comprehensive overview of the relevant topic. Factsheets are longer with more detail, and are aimed at professionals.

You can download other guides in our series from publications

For more information: Call Age UK Advice: 0800 678 1174

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