It is important to be aware that most of the pathogens causing food poisoning do not affect the sensorial qualities of food in any way. In other words, a food can look, smell and taste perfect and still make us ill.

On the other hand, the unpleasant smell that food releases when start spoiling is in most cases caused by bacteria that do not do any harm to healthy people and can be eaten without causing any illness.


To taste food, in order to appreciate its freshness or to see whether is spoiled, can be a risky action. When tasting raw food, undercooked food, food that was stored in improper conditions or food that was unhygienic handled, you may ingest harmful bacteria, viruses or parasites and become ill, even if the food tastes fine. Some of those pathogens can make you ill even in small doses. Take special care too with chilled food after due-by dates and dinner left-overs, salads and desserts that were not chilled down rapidly (stayed more than 2 hours at room temperature) before refrigeration or were stored in the fridge for more than 3 days.


By touching, one can sense sandy vegetables or slimy meat, which may be associated with pathogens and is often the case, but perfect smooth visually clean fruits and veggies and fresh meat may harbour pathogens that are not sensed at all.

Touching food is also a bad idea as you may contaminate your hands when touching raw food (e.g. fruits, vegetables, meat) or you may contaminate ready-to-eat food with dirty hands; inappropriate food handling is one of the most common causes of foodborne illnesses. The transfer of viruses and bacteria from food to hands or from hands to food can be avoided if using tongs, forks, spoons or spatulas, disposable gloves or waxed paper.

Base your decision on knowledge

So what should we do if our senses cannot be trusted in deciding whether a food is safe? SafeConsume advice is to base your decision on knowledge of the history of the product, which means to know its origin and how it was handled or stored. To be safe:

  • eat food coming from trusted sources (registered farms, food processing units, markets, shops, restaurants and other registered public food). It is good to know that chemical and microbiological analysis are performed to attest the safety of food sold by all these food business operators and hygiene conditions are periodically evaluated to protect consumers.
  • throw out food left in the temperature danger zone (6 - 60°C) for more than four hours
  • check the due-by dates on food products and discard out-of-date food. If you are uncertain of the date (either due-by or use-by), throw it out.