Fear Of Food : I have a Food Poisoning Phobia

Fear Of Food : I have a Food Poisoning Phobia

food poisoning
Stock image: They better be planning to cook those tomatoes now they’ve come in contact with raw meat!!!

Food poisoning phobia is a real thing. It’s called Cibophobia and it affects quite a few people.

I almost felt the need to announce on my personal Facebook page how proud I am of myself I am today. You see, last night I cooked a roast that I had bought from the supermarket on Saturday. Yesterday was Tuesday, which means I’d bought the roast a full three days prior. And despite the fact the actual expiration date for the meat is still two whole weeks away, three days is normally too long for me to have meat in my fridge before I will irrationally panic and throw it in the bin.

It used to be just 24 hours. After just one day I would either freeze or bin it. Two days is my new limit. So getting to a whole three days is pretty impressive for me. It’s a sign that I am (slowly) getting better!

Please don’t think I’m proud of wasting edible food. Trust me, it horrifies me how much food I’ve wasted. How much perfectly safe, undoubtedly delicious, not at all expired, food that has ended up untouched in my bin.

I hate food waste. Both for the environment and for my bank balance!

We’ve been through periods where my anxiety and phobia of food has been so high we’ve gone more-or-less vegetarian, just to save on food waste.

Where Did This Food Poisoning Phobia Come From?

I wasn’t always like this. In fact, I wasn’t that worried about food poisoning. I was even that worried about it after I gave myself food poisoning not long after I moved out of home. (I ate left over sausages from a BBQ that had sat out on a warm night for far too long and then in the fridge for a couple of days too. Like, it was obviously stupid, but I was young and thought I was invincible back then.)

I think it started some time around when my son was born. Funnily enough I was even a bit flippant about food when I was pregnant. By the end of my first pregnancy I’d broken all the food rules, including a sushi roll purchased at a train station. (Okay, I did regret that one immediately afterwards, but my pregnancy craving was INTENSE.)

But between then and the time my son started solids I’d started to be deeply afraid of any possible contamination in foods.

When he started solids I lovingly prepared a freezer full of purees… and then I fed him store bought baby food instead.

Because I felt as though anything I cooked for him must be contaminated. It couldn’t possibly be safe. I was afraid I’d kill him. That fear was not specific to food. I was afraid he’d died each and every day for any number of reasons. He’d stopped breathing at home when he was 11 days old for no apparent reason and every day after that all I could think about was all the ways my tiny precious child could die.

The Anxiety Went But The Fear Remained

My anxiety now is manageable on a day to day basis. To some degree it’s still there – it may always be there, like a low hum in the background of my mind. But I’m more or less fine.

But I never seemed to get over the fear of potentially contaminated food.

Perhaps because it is somewhat realistic. I mean, people do get food poisoning. Even if you’re careful – sometimes it just happens. Food sometimes does get harmful bacteria in it. When I was pregnant with my second baby there was a listeria outbreak in the United States that was coming from the skins of cantaloupe. Cantaloupe! Not even a fresh piece of rock melon is safe!

And the other issue is – I can’t actually avoid it. Not entirely. I still have to eat food – and feed it to my kids – every single day. Obviously not eating or feeding them is worse than food poisoning. So I have to push through it.

Some Days Are Better Than Others

Sometimes I can eat without having to think about the risks. I don’t even question how long the food at a fast food place has been out, or if the employees really washed their hands. I don’t feel the need to wonder how my friend defrosted the meat they’re serving for dinner when I’m a guest at their house. Sometimes it’s totally fine. Other times I have the thought out of habit, but I easily push it aside.

Occasionally I still decide it’s just easier to not eat. Or I’ll eat something else. Or throw out food even if it hurts me to do so. Because it’s just not worth the nausea, cramps and even audible stomach gurgling, I get from eating food I’ve irrationally decided will make me sick.

And when my anxiety with food presents with an upset stomach, as you can imagine it’s easy to convince myself that I was right. I am sick. Maybe this time I really do have food poisoning.

So on those days, when I think that no matter what I’ll probably end up feeling like I’m going to vomit anyway. I may as well just skip the meal entirely.

But irrationally know the food is fine! I’ll often feed my family food I can’t eat myself. That is how completely irrational this is. And I know that. If I actually believed there was anything wrong with the food there is no way I could feed it to my children. And yet, I still can’t make myself eat it.

I am very aware that it’s absolutely ridiculous. I joke that I’m crazy not stupid. (And making jokes about it is also the best therapy. My food poisoning thing is a bit of a running joke amongst my friends. I often get amusing messages from friends telling me they’re eating 5 day old leftovers and thought of me. Or I get tagged in pictures of raw chicken. Or post about people finding horrible things in food. That sort of thing. It’s lovely.)

I Am Getting Better At This

Even though it’s an annoying phobia, because I have to eat food every day – the more times I push through and eat something even when I’m afraid to do so, and then I don’t get sick, I’m teaching myself not to be afraid. Because every time I don’t get sick I have a little more evidence that food is safe. That I don’t have anything to worry about. That as long as I’m sensible and follow some basic food hygiene rules, I probably won’t get sick. Nor will I get my family sick.

And I’ve also decided that actually having food poisoning occasionally would actually be better than all this stress, worry, anxiety, and food waste. I’d honestly rather just get sick that spend this much time thinking about getting sick!

So I’ll just keep eating and not getting sick – until one day, hopefully, this won’t be an issue anymore.

Oh, and I just ate leftover roast from last night. #notallheroeswearcapes

Rachel Stewart

Rachel is the founder of Parenting Central. She is raising two children, boy and girl, with her partner. Rachel is obsessed prams, car seats, carriers and all things baby. She has worked in the baby industry for several years, for both suppliers and also in a retail setting and has developed a passion for connecting parents with the right products to make their lives easier. When Rachel isn't playing with prams she's enjoys crocheting, drinking coffee (sometimes wine) and spending a little too much time on Facebook.


  1. I guessed you got a bad case and was wrong! I ate some bad Chinese once and it damaged my throat on top of the rest! I still can’t eat Chinese. ?‍♀️

    1. Hi Amy, I’m sorry to hear you experience this too. I would say I’m a lot better than I was. I still irrationally throw out food that I’ve decided I can’t eat, and I HATE doing it, but it’s a lot less frequent. And I don’t stress myself into physical symptoms anymore. The more times I’ve just eaten food and not gotten sick the easier it’s become over time because I can draw on that to assure myself that it’s in my head. But it hasn’t completely gone away.

      Also talking about it with a health professional really helps as well.

  2. Omg I have the same issue with expiration dates! I haven’t eaten chicken in years because i’m always scared i’ll get sick from it even thought it hasn’t happened before(knock on wood). I’m starting to develop a fear of sushi now ever though it’s my favorite food. I tend to scare myself by constantly checking reviews and looking up food poisoning statistics. Do you have any advice for that? I really hope that you’re doing better now

  3. I had never heard about food poisoning phobia until I read this!!

    I have Emetophobia (fear of vomiting) so guess this definitely covers fear of food poisoning as well.

    Hope you are doing better.

    1. Hi Rachel, I am doing a lot better – the gently but continuously challenging myself to eat things consistently reinforces the idea that food isn’t dangerous, because every time I don’t get sick I’m teaching myself not to be afraid.

      I even did my pre-Christmas grocery shop on the 22rd (instead of buying food Christmas eve) – as I bought meat knowing I wouldn’t be cooking it for three whole days (obviously with expiration dates way out into the future). Which made me nervous, but it’s something I simply could not have done two years ago. But then I returned the roast lamb on the 24th because it looked a funny colour and the packaging seemed compromised… so it’s a bit two steps forward, one step back… but I’m still taking it overall as a win.

      Emetophobia is a fairly common phobia as well. I hope yours is manageable.

      Take care. xx

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