Food poisioning

Even food that looks, tastes and smells good can make you sick.

Food poisoning is caused by bacteria, natural toxins and chemicals. The most common cause is bacteria. Foodborne illness occurs when food poisoning bacteria contaminate food and multiply to dangerous levels, due to poor food handling and storage. To multiply to these levels, bacteria need food, warmth, moisture and time.

There are two types of bacteria: those that spoil food and those that cause food poisoning. Some people wrongly believe food poisoning bacteria will make food smell, taste and look bad. Harmless microbes can cause food to smell off, taste bad and look terrible – and still not make us ill. Food poisoning bacteria, however, are quite different.

Bacteria love to breed in high-risk foods. High risk foods are likely to cause food poisoning if not stored, prepared or cooked properly. High risk foods include:

  • meat and poultry
  • gravy and stews
  • milk, cream and egg products
  • seafood.

Ten common causes of food poisoning and how you can prevent them.


Common cause



Improper refrigeration

Store high risk food at 5 degrees celsius or less.


Food stored at room temperature

minimise the time high risk food is stored at room temperature (a maximum of 4 hours).


Food made too far in advance

can increase the likelihood of contamination and time in the ‘danger zone’.


Inadequate cooling

cool food quickly in small batches.


Inadequate re-heating

heat food quickly to over 60 degrees celsius to destroy bacteria.


Inadequate thawing

ensure raw meat like poultry is thawed thoroughly so the cooking process heats the internal temperature to over 60 degrees celsius, destroying bacteria naturally present.


Poor housekeeping

clean premises reduce the number of bacteria that can be spread during food preparation


Cross contamination

staff with good food handling practices will reduce the likelihood of cross contamination.


Contaminated processed food

use reputable suppliers to ensure you receive good quality food.


Poor personal hygiene

ensure staff know and practice good personal hygiene habits.

Seafood and food poisoning

Some types of fish and seafood have naturally occurring seafood toxins and indigestible oils which can cause food poisoning. The following Queensland Health fact sheets will help you understand more about these types of food poisoning: