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Food poisoning and infectious diseases

Food poisoning is a name given to a group of infectious diseases that cause similar symptoms and are associated with food.

Symptoms can consist of:

  • diarrhoea                                       
  • vomiting                                                                                    
  • abdominal pain
  • nausea
  • headache
  • fever

The symptoms are generally caused by:

  • bacteria
  • viruses
  • chemicals
  • metals
  • poisonous plants

Reporting food poisoning

If you suspect you are suffering food poisoning it is recommended that you visit your doctor as soon as possible, who might ask you to submit a sample for examination. 

Speak to your doctor immediately if:

  • the person affected is a baby or elderly
  • the person affected has an existing illness or condition
  • symptoms are prolonged or severe (for example, bloody diarrhoea)

If you or a family member are suffering from the symptoms of food poisoning:

  • wash your hands after contact with the sick person, and before handling food
  • do not use the same towel or face cloth
  • 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 they are a food handler or health care/nursery worker who has contact with food, they should not return to work until they are symptom free for 48 hours. They must also tell their employer about their symptoms.

How do we investigate cases

We try to contact you to discuss where and what you have eaten over the three days prior to you feeling ill, as well as taking details of your symptoms. 

If we can link your illness with another case in the area, we will visit suspect premises. 

However, with only one case it is hard to prove any particular premises to be at fault. A large number of food poisonings are thought to occur in the home.

It may not be due to your last meal

Most food poisoning bacteria do not cause illness until 12 to 36 hours after they have entered the body.

Some illnesses can take up to seven days before you show any symptoms. 

It will hardly ever be what you ate last that made you ill, but rather what you ate yesterday or the day before.

Outbreaks

The evidence we collect gives us a better chance of identifying where the outbreak came from.

We can take steps to limit the outbreak and consider what further action to take.

With institutional outbreaks we try to work to limit the spread of infection.

In schools and nurseries this means making sure:

  • no children attend who are still suffering from symptoms
  • nursing and care homes have appropriate isolation practices in place

Institutions should have their own outbreak control plan. 

In these premises two or more cases of illness qualifies as an outbreak.

Please contact us with any questions.

Infectious disease advice sheets

Campylobacter fact sheet (PDF/238KB/4 pages)

E.Coli fact sheet (PDF/253KB/4 pages)

Rotavirus fact sheet (PDF/245KB/4 pages)

Salmonella fact sheet (PDF/339KB/4 pages)

Cryptosporidium fact sheet (PDF/233KB/4 pages)

Giardia fact sheet (PDF/222KB/2 pages)

Norovirus fact sheet (PDF/248KB/2 pages)

Dysentery/Shigella fact sheet (PDF/257KB/4 pages)

Typhoid fact sheet (PDF/254KB/2 pages)