Don't get ill! What to look for when eating out

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Since 2005 the number of reported cases of food poisoning has increased, according to the Food Standards Agency.

So how can you tell if food is safe when you eat from a restaurant or takeaway?

Richard Kuziara is a senior environmental health officer who features in The Food Inspectors on BBC One. This is his advice:

1. Don't judge a place by the outside

Food hygiene is more about food preparation than whether the place looks nice.

In many cases it's poor hygiene practices that allow bad bacteria to make you ill.

That said, if staff can't be bothered to clean public areas like toilets, it's likely the kitchen will be also dirty.

2. Check the food hygiene rating

The Food Inspectors

Presenters Gaby Roslin, Chris Hollins and Matt Allwright

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You might see a sticker showing you the food hygiene rating in the window or on the door of the business, if you live in England or Northern Ireland.

If you're in Wales you should definitely expect to see them.

For people in Scotland, the Food Hygiene Information Scheme can help you choose where to eat out or shop for food.

3. Look at the staff

If you are buying food from a takeaway stall at an event, try to work out how staff wash their hands.

Are the staff...

  • Washing hands regularly?
  • Dressed for the job?
  • Wearing a dirty apron or not bothering to put one on?
  • Wearing a hair net or tying it back, if they have long hair?

If they don't have anywhere to wash inside the stall, do they use nearby toilets? If so, how clean are these?

If staff are wearing protective gloves to prepare food, it's not a guarantee of hygiene.

Gloves won't be any help at all if staff are sneezing or picking their nose when preparing your sandwich.

4. Remember what foods are high or low risk

High risk foods are ones which are ready-to-eat and often have a shelf-life. They need refrigeration and are high in protein.

Examples include meats, rice, dairy products (milk and cheese) and fish.

If you have any doubts, consider low risk choices like preserves (e.g. olives and jam), breads or cakes.

5. Hot foods should be hot!

A food safety officer checks:

  • How the food is s prepared, cooked, re-heated, cooled and stored
  • The condition of the buildings - the cleanliness, layout, lighting, ventilation and other facilities
  • The business's food safety records

Food Standards Agency

If you are eating at a buffet and the meat is lukewarm, don't touch it!

If you are ordering high risk foods in a fish and chip shop (like pies and sausages), check they are hot and haven't just been left to warm up in the display section of the fryer.

With the exception of solid muscle meats, like joints and chops, all meats should be cooked until the juices run clear.

Avoid bloody or undercooked chicken, sausages or burgers.

6. Cold foods should be cold!

At a deli, be wary of cold meats that have been left on the slicer at room temperature or handled without gloves.

At a salad bar check that dishes of food are not just topped-up, but the whole dish changed.

In a shop which serves food from a fridge, check where it's located.

If the fridge is near the window in direct sunlight, the sun could heat it up, allowing bacteria to grow.

7. If food hygiene is not up to scratch

Raise your concern with the manager or owner.

Consider reporting the business to your local environmental health officers.

The NHS has more advice on food poisoning.

The Food Inspectors is on BBC One, Thursdays at 20:00.

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