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Symptoms of food poisoning

If you think you are suffering from food poisoning you should contact your GP as soon as possible.

Symptoms of food poisoning may include one or more of these:

  • Sickness
  • Diarrhoea - stomach pains
  • Fever - feeling hot/cold
  • Headaches.

Children under five years, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with reduced immunity are more likely to suffer severe symptoms.

If you are suffering from diarrhoea your GP may ask you for a stool specimen to try and find out what type of food poisoning you may have. Your GP will then notify us and you may get a telephone call from an environmental health officer. They will ask you details about your illness and about recent food that you may eaten.

If you have any food leftovers which may have made you ill, you should put them in a clean, sealed container and keep them in the fridge, separate from other food. The environmental health officer may arrange for this food to be tested for bugs which cause food poisoning.

If you think a food business is involved, we will ask for details and may carry out an inspection.

If you have suffered food poisoning you should not go to work whilst you are ill. You can normally return to work 48 hours after you have recovered.

If you are a food handler, nurse, work with young children or the elderly, you should inform your employer of your illness immediately. Ask us for advice if you are unsure.

Common causes

Salmonella and Campylobacter are the two bacteria causing most illness in this country at the moment.

They are similar as they both cause severe stomach pain and diarrhoea for up to a couple of weeks. Once the diarrhoea has gone with Campylobacter so has the illness but it is possible to continue to pass Salmonella bacteria after the diarrhoea has gone.

Salmonella is an illness we are concerned about. People who get it may feel well, but can pass it on to others when handling food.

Certain viruses are becoming increasingly associated with food poisoning.

How to avoid food poisoning

  • Buy from a reputable source
  • Follow the 'use by' dates printed on the wrappers of perishable foods
  • Make sure deep frozen food is hard and in a sealed pack. Mushy packs indicate inadequate freezing
  • Always place raw meat below cooked foods to prevent blood drip
  • Keep raw and cooked foods separate at all times
  • Always wash your hands regularly, particularly after visiting the toilet and after handling raw foods and after handling pets and animals
  • People suffering diarrhoea or any food poisoning infection should have their own towel and it is best not to prepare or handle food for others until you have recovered with no symptoms for 48 hours.

It may not be due to your last meal

Often, if people become ill in this way just after eating at a restaurant or ready-cooked food bought from a shop they will be sure that this is the cause.

But, food poisoning bacteria take quite a long time to reproduce inside the human gut and some people are more resistant than others so it may be some time before there are enough to cause illness.

Very often it can be something eaten as long as two, even three, days before the symptoms show, which caused the problem.

Some food poisoning symptoms can appear more quickly. This is usually caused by the poison or toxin which some bacteria make. If there is a lot of this in the food when eaten the stomach is likely to react quite quickly by vomiting to try to remove the poison. This can happen within a few hours of eating the affected food.

Another very fast acting type of food borne illness is that of allergic reaction. This can vary from unpleasant tingling in the mouth and rashes to anaphylactic shock and death.

Which food poisoning cases are investigated?

All confirmed cases of food poisoning and certain other cases of infectious diseases are reported to our food safety team by either local GPs or hospital laboratories.

What to do if you think you have had food poisoning

Make a note of everything you have done and eaten in the previous 48 hours. Record details such as where you have been and when. 

We investigate possible sources of and reasons for the infection.

We'll contact everyone for whom we receive a notification, asking for background information about the infection and possible sources - together with a questionnaire asking about foods consumed and activities prior to the onset ofillness.

We'll then investigate to establish a possible source. This is both to prevent others from being affected and to determine whether the law has been broken. Where the poisoning is thought to be due to unsafe food from a food premises within the district, we investigate further.

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