Food poisoning is caused by eating contaminated food. Bacteria, viruses or toxins which are naturally present in meat, fish or plants are usually the cause of food poisoning. Metals and chemicals in food can also be the cause.
The incubation period (time taken from eating the food to feeling unwell) varies with each type of bacteria and, in some cases, may occur up to 15 days later. This means that the last meal you ate before getting ill may not be the cause of your symptoms.
Many viruses have similar symptoms to food poisoning but may not be food related.
People with food poisoning may have a range of symptoms but the most common are abdominal pains, diarrhoea and vomiting.
Food poisoning or food borne illness can spread quickly. Everyone in the family could have eaten the same food and the bacteria may be passed on by close family contact.
Viruses cause illness similar to food poisoning and also spread very quickly.
If you suspect you have food poisoning it is recommended that you visit your doctor as soon as possible, who might ask you to provide a faecal sample for examination.
Samples are useful in that they might be able to show which food-borne illness you are suffering from, or could rule out a food-poisoning organism. Viruses can also be detected.
Consult your doctor immediately if the person affected:
- is a baby
- is elderly
- has an existing illness or condition
- has symptoms that are prolonged or severe, such as blood in your diarrhoea.
You will need to go to your doctor and give a faecal specimen. This will be tested and then you will be given the results or diagnosis.
If you have been diagnosed as having food poisoning by your doctor, they will tell us.
We will then contact you, depending on the type of food poisoning you are suffering, either by telephone or sending a questionnaire through the post.
A food history will be collected, usually covering the five days before your symptoms started.
It is a good idea to try to do this whenever you think you may be suffering from food poisoning, as it can be very hard to remember what you have previously eaten just a few days later.
If you or a member of your family is suffering from the symptoms of food poisoning, follow this advice to try and prevent the spread of the illness.
- Wash your hands after contact with the sick person and before handling food.
- The sick person should avoid preparing food altogether.
- Do not use the same towel or face cloth as someone who is suffering with food borne illness.
- Clear up soiling accidents straightaway, wash with hot soapy water and disinfect with a disinfectant or bleach.
- Disinfect door and toilet handles, taps and the toilet seat after use and disinfect the toilet bowl frequently.
- Drink plenty of fluids while you are ill to prevent dehydration.
If you are suffering from food poisoning symptoms (listed above) and you handle food as part of your job, you must inform you employer.
If you have diarrhoea and or vomiting you should not enter a food handling area until you have had no symptoms for 48 hours.
If you work in the caring industry such as health professional, health care assistant, nursery worker or care for any vulnerable people you must inform you employer. You must stay away from work until you have had no symptoms for 48 hours.
If you have any queries relating to food poisoning or infectious disease, you can contact us.