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Food poisoning


Food poisoning or more generally food-borne disease can be an unpleasant illness. Current research shows that the majority of isolated cases occur in the home.

Typically, symptoms of food poisoning include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Fever

Most healthy individuals will recover after a short period of illness however food borne diseases can cause serious illness in some groups of people and in extreme circumstances even cause death. Those most at risk are the very young, the very old and those people who are already chronically ill. Pregnant women must also take particular care with what they eat and drink and follow advice given to them by their doctor or midwife. If you are concerned then you should contact your GP who will be able to give you advice.

Steps to preventing food-borne illness

  • Always wash your hands thoroughly before handling or eating, food and particularly after handling raw meat
  • Always wash your hands thoroughly after visiting the toilet
  • Always wash your hands after contact with pets and other animals
  • Always thoroughly cook meat to kill off harmful bacteria
  • Always thoroughly thaw meat before cooking it
  • Always keep raw foods separate from ready-to-eat foods
  • Raw meat and fish should be kept in sealed containers on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator
  • Use separate utensils if you are preparing raw and ready-to-eat foods at the same time 
  • Washing salads thoroughly
  • Avoid eating or drinking un-pasteurised milk, raw eggs and undercooked meat

Should I work with food poisoning symptoms?

A general guide is that most people can return to work or school 24 hours after the symptoms have stopped. People that work in food businesses must inform their employers of their illness and should not return to work within 48 hours of the last symptom. This is a legal requirement and failure to report symptoms could lead to prosecution of the individual, rather than the business.

Can my child go to nursery if he/she is suffering from food poisoning symptoms?

Children under 5 should not attend nursery or school until 48 hours after their diarrhoea and/or vomiting have settled.

Food poisoning - did you know....

  • Over 100,000 cases of food poisoning are reported each year, but it is thought that many more cases go unreported
  • More than 23 million working days are lost each year because of food poisoning
  • In ideal conditions, food poisoning bacteria can double their numbers every 20 minutes - in less than seven hours, one food poisoning bug can multiply into one million
  • One housefly can carry 2 million bacteria
  • The most common type of food poisoning is caused by Campylobacter
  • Food that causes food poisoning looks, tastes and smells normal
  • Pregnant women, young children and babies, the elderly and people who are already ill are particularly vulnerable to food poisoning
  • Not all bacteria are harmful - some are used to make cheese and yogurt
  • Food poisoning can be prevented by: Cooking food properly; Keeping food at the right temperature i.e. don't leave chilled and cooked foods at ordinary room temperature; Keeping raw foods separate from cooked foods in the fridge and cleaning utensils, surfaces and hands thoroughly after handling raw foods
  • Use-by dates are put on packets of perishable food that could cause food poisoning if eaten after their Use-by date e.g. packets of ham, wrapped meat pies, packaged cheese etc
  • Best Before dates are put on wrapped low risk foods such as bread, cakes, biscuits, tinned food etc. It is an offence to sell food which is past its Use-by date, but it is not an offence to sell food beyond its Best Before date - provided the food is still of reasonable quality
Health Protection Agency