An investigation into an outbreak of food poisoning caused by Clostridium perfringens showed evidence of poor food handling by catering staff. The reasons behind this were explored by interviewing catering staff, analysing shifts and rotas, and looking at staff vacancies. Morale was low because of staff shortages resulting from a long term recruitment problem. In consequence staff were working double shifts and often for weeks on end without a day off. The reasons for the recruitment problem included the difficulty of recruiting semiskilled labour from a middle class area, low wages, lack of management support, and the poor image of the hospital as a place of work. Similar factors affect the recruitment and retention of ancillary staff nationally. The NHS has a poor record as an employer of ancillary staff, paying lower wages than other organisations for equivalent posts. Competitive tendering has further worsened the position of ancillary staff, with the result that good quality of care and service has often not been achieved. The NHS Review, with its emphasis on quality of care, makes no mention of ancillary staff. Yet high standards of ancillary provision are essential if further outbreaks of food poisoning in hospitals are to be prevented.