Find out more about food poisoning and what you should do if you have been ill.

If you think you have food poisoning, you should contact your doctor.  They may ask you to submit a faecal (stool) sample.  This will be tested in a laboratory to find out what has caused your food poisoning.  Sometimes the tests do not find a specific cause.

What are the symptoms of food poisoning?

Symptoms will vary depending on which type of food poisoning you have, but will usually include some or all of the following:

  • Vomiting (Being sick)
  • Diarrhoea
  • Aching muscles
  • A headache
  • Fever
  • Tiredness
  • Nausea (feeling sick)
  • Abdominal Pain
  • Stomach Cramps

Some contamination can make you feel ill very quickly (within minutes) but most bacteria do not.  Bacteria take quite a long time to make you ill because they have to increase in numbers in your body before causing illness.  This can take between two and seven days, so the contaminated food may not be the last food you ate.

What is food poisoning?

Most food poisoning is caused by eating or drinking food which is contaminated. 

There is usually no way of telling if the food is contaminated.  Food looks, tastes and smells normal.  Foods most commonly associated with food poisoning are meat and poultry, shellfish, rice and dairy products.

How do I contract food poisoning?

You can contract food poisoning by one of the following ways:

  • By eating or drinking contaminated food, like undercooked meat, poultry and eggs;
  • By touching contaminated food and then eating or preparing some other food without washing and drying your hands;
  • From someone who is ill with food poisoning who hasn't washed and dried their hands properly after using the toilet;
  • Handling pets and animals without washing and drying hands properly afterwards, or allowing pets on to kitchen work surfaces.

What is the Treatment?

Most people will recover on their own. Fluid replacement to prevent dehydration is important. Eating live yoghurt or honey may help the recovery. Antibiotics are occasionally used in some instances, or in cases of relapse.  

How will it be investigated?

If the person who is ill has visited their Doctor and submitted a stool sample to the laboratory for testing, the local authority will automatically be notified as to what type of food poisoning the person has.  That person may then be contacted (or parent/guardian/carer) to ask further questions such as:

  • What and where they've eaten before their illness
  • Details of their symptoms
  • Whether they've been on holiday abroad
  • Whether anybody else they ate with also experienced any symptoms.

The questions we ask will help us find out what food may have caused the food poisoning and will help us advise on how to stop it spreading to other persons in the household and community.

Do infected people need to stay away from work or school?

Most infected people may return to work or school once their bowel movements have returned to normal for 48 hours and provided that they carefully wash their hands after toilet visits. Food handlers, healthcare workers and children in daycare who have suffered from E-coli 0157 must not return to work until they have been screened to confirm they are negative for the bacteria.

How to prevent food poisoning

Food poisoning is a preventable illness.  The following tips will help you avoid food poisoning:

  • Wash hands thoroughly before preparing foods and eating;
  • Always treat raw poultry and meat as if it is contaminated and handle accordingly;
  • Keep raw foods separate from all other foods;
  • Wash hands thoroughly after handling and preparing raw foods;
  • Ensure all poultry and meat is cooked properly;
  • Wash worktops, cutting boards and other equipment immediately after use, preferably using a steriliser (follow manufacturers instructions);
  • Avoid eating unpasteurised milk and cheeses etc;
  • Avoid eating raw or undercooked eggs;
  • Never drink untreated water (or foods washed with or ice made from untreated water);
  • Keep your refrigerator working between 2oC and 8oC
  • Keep animal food/bowls separate from the family's food and dishes;
  • Make sure you wash your hands after contact with animals and before touching food.

Hand washing

Wash hands with soap and water:

  • AFTER using or cleaning the toilet;
  • AFTER doing anything for the person that is ill, e.g. changing baby's nappy, washing clothes and bedclothes;
  • BEFORE preparing or handling food or serving drinks.

If a member of your household has food poisoning

Food poisoning can easily be passed on to other members of your household if you do not follow good hygiene.  If a member of your household has food poisoning:

  • Have one towel each, do not share towels;
  • Help small children to wash their hands;
  • Laundry soiled by someone with food poisoning should not go to the laundrette or get laundered in the general washing.  Instead, keep it separate (save it in a plastic bag) and either boil it for 10 minutes, wash it on the hottest washing cycle, or soak it in disinfectant overnight.
  • With a cloth soaked in disinfectant, wipe the bathroom door handle, toilet flush handle, toilet seat and, if necessary, the floor, (in that order), two or three times a day;
  • The lavatory pan must be cleaned using a lavatory brush and disinfectant. Flush the toilet holding the brush in the water to clean it, then place in its holder. Always wear rubber gloves to clean the toilet and keep them for this use only;
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after changing baby's nappy;
  • If the baby's potty has been used, wipe it clean using disinfectant.