These foods are far riskier than you thought

Soft boiled eggs, souffles and proper tiramisu are back on the menu for everyone – after official 30-year-old UK advice that pregnant women, the elderly and young children should only eat well-cooked eggs was finally overturned.

The controversy dates back to 1988, when a scare over the presence of the food poisoning bacteria salmonella in eggs led to warnings for vulnerable groups to avoid eating them if they were raw or runny. 

The junior health minister of the time, Edwina Currie, declared: ‘Most egg production in this country, sadly, is now affected with salmonella.’

By the 1990s, producers started a vaccination programme and today the risk is considered negligible.

But what about all the other food safety rules we often follow, like never serving pork pink or washing a chicken before cooking – should they be given an overhaul too?

Here we examine the sometimes surprising truths about how to keep your food safe


The ban on dippy eggs for vulnerable groups has been lifted

Since the salmonella scare, the Government had advised that pregnant women, young children and elderly people should avoid eating eggs that were not fully cooked.

But for UK-produced eggs with the Lion stamp on the shell – that’s virtually all eggs sold in supermarkets – the ban on dippy eggs for vulnerable groups has been lifted.

The advice follows a year-long risk assessment by the Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food which found that measures by the egg industry, from vaccination of hens through to improved hygiene on farms and better transportation, had dramatically reduced salmonella levels in UK hens.

Salmonella is not killed by heating, and can cause vomiting, diarrhoea and cramps. It’s worth noting that if eggs don’t have the Lion stamp, or are from ducks, geese or quails, they should still be cooked thoroughly for vulnerable groups.


Poorly cooked burgers are responsible for more than 800 cases of food poisoning each year

Poorly cooked burgers are responsible for more than 800 cases of food poisoning each year

Mincing meat spreads bugs such as E.coli, a food poisoning bacteria that lives on the food surfaces and can end up inside, say, a burger. So mincing creates a risk that cooking a rare steak doesn’t, as searing a steak kills off surface bacteria.

Poorly cooked burgers are responsible for more than 800 cases of food poisoning each year. However food experts claim that hygiene controls imposed on restaurants with pink burgers on the menu mean you’re less likely to fall ill eating one out than you are if you make them yourself.

‘Restaurants are able to put in strict controls right from the start of the process to prevent or reduce contamination on the meat they use for burgers,’ a Food Standards Agency (FSA) spokesman explained.

Even so, rare burgers can still be a risk for pregnant women, the young and old, and these groups are also advised to avoid steak, due to the small risk of a nasty infection called toxoplasmosis.


Many of us still do it, but this is regarded as outdated and unsafe by experts. That’s because splashing water over a chicken can spread bacteria such as campylobacter – which can cause gastric illness – around your kitchen. 

The only way to successfully get rid of bacteria on poultry is to cook it thoroughly until the meat is not pink and the juices run clear. 

Public Health England reported that between July 2015 to March 2016, 61 per cent of fresh whole chickens were contaminated with campylobacter, which is responsible for more cases of food poisoning than E.coli, listeria and salmonella put together. 

In 2014, the FSA ran a ‘don’t wash your chicken’ campaign to protect people from the bug.


Acrylamide is a probable carcinogen (a substance that promotes cancerous cells in the body) that forms when high-starch foods, such as potatoes and bread are cooked at over 120C by frying, roasting or baking.

The FSA has launched a campaign urging us to ‘go for gold’ – meaning don’t bake, toast or roast starchy foods like potatoes, root vegetables and bread too brown – as this will minimise acrylamide formation.

But what’s less well-known is that you can minimise the amount in homemade chips and roasties by not refrigerating potatoes. ‘Storing potatoes in the fridge may lead to the formation of more free sugars, and can increase overall acrylamide levels when the potatoes are fried, roasted or baked,’ says an FSA spokesman.

‘Store raw potatoes in a dark, cool place at temperatures above 6C if you intend to cook them at high temperatures.’

Parboiling before roasting also helps as the process removes free sugars from potatoes.


Eating peanuts could reduce the risk of allergy in babies

Eating peanuts could reduce the risk of allergy in babies

It was once thought that children were more likely to develop a potentially fatal peanut allergy if exposed to them in the womb or in infancy, but the reverse may be true. 

Government advice is that pregnant women with a family history of allergy can safely eat peanuts unless they are allergic, but still states that babies shouldn’t consume peanuts until six months, and then only if there’s no family history of food allergy. 

However, Gideon Lack, Professor of Paediatric Allergy at King’s College, London, says: ‘There is strong evidence that, from four months of age, frequent consumption of foods rich in peanuts will reduce the development of peanut allergy.’


There’s a reason most supermarket sushi only uses cooked fish: raw seafood can never be guaranteed totally safe. Shell fish can be contaminated with viruses, including norovirus, so vulnerable groups such as pregnant women and over 65s should always eat it cooked.

With raw salmon sushi you’re on a safer footing, as food hygiene legislation dictates that fishery products for raw consumption (and which aren’t from certified parasite-free farms or waters) must have been frozen, which destroys tiny stomach-upsetting worms, called anisakis.

Freezing salami, Parma ham and chorizo, which are raw cured meats, can also kill any stray toxoplasmosis-causing parasites –which can cause miscarriage.


Guidance from the FSA is that pork roasting joints and chops should be cooked until the meat is no longer pink and juices run clear. The advice stems from when trichinella – a parasite infection – was common in pork, but no cases have been reported for more than 30 years.

In America, the Department of Agriculture says whole cuts of pork, such as roasts and chops, are safe when cooked to 63C followed by a three-minute rest time 

In America, the Department of Agriculture says whole cuts of pork, such as roasts and chops, are safe when cooked to 63C followed by a three-minute rest time 

In America, the Department of Agriculture says whole cuts of pork, such as roasts and chops, are safe when cooked to 63C followed by a three-minute rest time, allowing the pork to be cooked medium and just slightly pink.

However, independent food safety consultant Sarah Howarth says: ‘Cook your roast or minced pork at home until the centre is no longer pink and the juices run clear.’


Oily fish can harbour fat-soluble dioxins and PCB chemicals, which have been linked with cancer and low birth weight.

For women who are trying to get pregnant, the limit is just two portions a week, and for men it is four portions.

But it’s not just salmon, sardines and mackerel that are at issue – some white fish contains similar levels of PCBs as oily fish.

If sea bass, sea bream, halibut, turbot and rock salmon (dogfish), are your regulars, you should look for alternatives.

Don’t dish dirt at the table 

Dirt on your fruit and vegetables will often be harmless, but it pays to always wash it off really thoroughly because the produce may have been in contact with faeces-contaminated soil.

In a 2011 E.coli outbreak in the UK, soil stuck to leeks and potatoes was implicated in 250 cases of the infection.

Washing the skins of produce is important too – the outside of melons have been the source of salmonella infections and should be scrubbed in warm running water to avoid transfer of bacteria from skin to fruit when you cut the melon.

Listeriosis and toxoplasmosis can also be acquired from traces of soil, and though they are rare (averaging around 177 and 350 confirmed cases per year respectively in England and Wales), they can be life-threatening in pregnant women and the elderly.

Perils of falling for the raw food trend 

Raw food fans believe heating above 49C is bad for you because it destroys natural enzymes (which aid in biological reactions), but dietician Helen Bond says: ‘This is flawed logic, as enzymes are proteins and so are broken down when you consume them anyway.’

She adds: ‘Vegetables are often higher in vitamin C and folic acid when raw, but carrots and tomatoes can be more nutritious cooked, as heat softens the cell walls and enables beta carotene, which the body turns into vitamin A, to be better absorbed.’

Trendy raw sprouted seeds have been associated with 30 major outbreaks of food poisoning worldwide since 1996 and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) recommends that they are cooked well, particularly by those in vulnerable groups.

And only last month, raw milk consumption was blamed by health inspectors for 65 people falling ill in Cumbria due to campylobacter bugs – which is normally killed by pasteurisation. Even more worrying is the trend for raw chicken sashimi or tartare.

The stomach-churning dish has caused illness in Japan and is alarming food safety experts closer to home too. The FSA states: ‘Raw chicken is unsafe to eat, regardless of the conditions the birds have been kept in.’