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Low immunity

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Unpleasant at the best of times, food poisoning can be more dangerous for people with low or compromised immune systems.

Low or compromised immune systems can result from some health conditions, illnesses and medicines.

You can reduce the risk of getting sick from food by choosing and preparing food safely.

Find out what the common food risks are, and how to avoid them in Food risk and you - what to eat with a weakened immune system (PDF, 224 KB)

If in doubt about whether you have a low or compromised immune system, please contact your doctor.

Particular care

Risks include:


Infection from Listeria monocytogenes bacteria can be very dangerous to people in vulnerable groups, even though it is rare and causes mild or no symptoms in healthy people. In pregnant women, listeria can be transmitted to an unborn baby, leading to infection in the baby, premature birth, stillbirth or miscarriage. Listeria can also make newborn babies very ill. In people with underlying health issues it can result in a serious infection.

Listeria is destroyed by conventional cooking, but can grow in some foods in the fridge even if stored correctly.

  • you should eat only freshly cooked food and well-washed freshly prepared fruit and vegetables
  • leftovers can be eaten if they are refrigerated promptly and kept no longer than a day
  • it’s important not to eat food if there’s any doubt about its hygienic preparation or storage.

These mostly chilled, ready to eat foods should be avoided altogether, unless thoroughly cooked and eaten while hot:

  • soft cheese such as brie, blue, fetta, camembert and ricotta
  • cold chicken or turkey particularly if sliced or diced as used in chicken sandwiches
  • cold meats, pate and meat spreads
  • pre-prepared or packaged salads greens and salads
  • raw seafood such as sashimi, smoked salmon or oysters (canned oysters are safe)
  • sushi
  • unpasteurised dairy products including raw goats milk and Roquefort cheese.

Food poisoning in vulnerable people at risk of infection or when pregnant, can be extremely serious or even life threatening. People at risk should also avoid consuming rockmelon.


Vibrio is a type of bacteria. Vibrio infections are usually associated with eating raw and undercooked shellfish like oysters, pipis, mussels and cockles.

Some species of Vibrio bacteria can cause severe illness to some vulnerable people, especially those suffering from diseases associated with the liver and stomach (eg chronic alcoholism). In some cases, the bacteria enter the blood stream, and cause septic shock and death. Affected people may develop distinctive bulbous skin lesions.

Vibrio infections can be avoided by:

  • not eating raw oysters or other raw shellfish
  • handling raw shellfish carefully – cuts from the shell when open may introduce Vibrio bacteria into the wound
  • cooking shellfish thoroughly
  • for shellfish in the shell, either: boil until the shell opens and continue boiling for five minutes, or steam until the shells open and then continue cooking for another nine minutes
  • do not eat shellfish that do not open during cooking
  • boil oyster meat for at least three minutes, or fry them in oil for at least 10 minutes
  • ensuring cross-contamination of cooked seafood and other foods with raw seafood and juices from raw seafood does not occur.

Special care foods

Some foods can have higher risks of causing food poisoning for everyone, and the risks can be even more serious for people with low or compromised immune systems.

Handle these foods with special care.

Key food safety tips

The key food safety tips are practical tips designed to help people avoid harmful food bacteria. Following the tips is particularly important to protect people with low or compromised immune systems.

The key food safety tips are:

  • Keep it cold
  • Keep it clean
  • Keep it hot
  • Check the label.

Other vulnerable groups

Other people with low or compromised immune systems include:

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