Food Poisoning

What Is It?

Food Poisoning is a term used to cover an unpleasant range of illnesses which can be caused by bacteria, viruses, chemicals, metals and poisonous plants. Bacterial food poisoning is the most common. Illness usually starts between 12 and 36 hours from eating affected food. Symptoms can include headache, diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting and can persist for between 1 and 7 days.

How Is It Caused?

It is caused by germs entering the body through the mouth on unwashed hands, infected food or drink. Once the germs have entered the body they can multiply very quickly in the digestive system causing illness.

How is it spread?

A person with diarrhoea can quite easily spread germs if care is not taken with personal hygiene.

It is also possible with some types of food poisoning to be a carrier and to spread the disease without having any symptoms or even knowing that you are infected.

How Can I Stop The Infection Spreading?

People with diarrhoea and vomiting symptoms are the greatest risk. Once the symptoms have gone, the chances of spreading the infection are greatly reduced. Anyone who has diarrhoea would be well advised to temporarily reduce social contact with others.

Do I Tell My Doctor?

Tell your doctor if anyone in your house has symptoms that could suggest food poisoning. The sooner that health professionals know of your symptoms, the sooner they can be investigated and treated.

If you handle food or drink or are in contact with young children or elderly people in the course of your daily work, you should also tell your employer or supervisor.

What Precautionary Measures Can I Take?

Thorough hand washing is vital: -

  • Before preparing or serving food or drink
  • After using or cleaning the toilet
  • After dealing with anyone with diarrhoea
  • After changing the baby's nappy
  • After handling soiled clothing or bed linen
  • After handling raw meat
  • Regularly disinfect toilets, flush handles, taps and door handles in the immediate vicinity of the toilet.

You should also...

Cover open wounds or sores with a waterproof plaster.

Keep all perishable foods in a fridge separating raw meat from other foods.

Only take food out of the fridge just before use.

Keep fridge temperature below 5°C.

Ensure frozen foods are properly thawed before cooking.

Ensure foods are cooked thoroughly.

Keep kitchen surfaces and utensils perfectly clean. Wash them between preparing different foods.

Do not let pets or other animals in the kitchen when preparing food. Do not wash pets' food bowls with the family dishes.

Do not buy or eat food past its 'use by' or 'best before' date.

Do not reheat food more than once.

Always follow the instructions on cooking/reheating microwave and ready meals carefully to ensure that the food is evenly heated throughout.

Do I Need To Submit Specimens?

When a case of food poisoning is suspected it will be necessary to collect specimens of faeces for analysis. This is the only way to detect the presence of bacteria and confirm precisely which organism is causing your symptoms.

An Environmental Health Officer will visit and decide who needs to supply specimens. You will be given special boxes and bottles and asked to post them off as soon as you have provided a specimen.

The results will be relayed to you as soon as they are available but in the meantime the Environmental Health Officer will be pleased to advise you further. Your help will reduce the risk of spreading the illness to others.

Will I Need Treatment?

Treatment is not usually given for most types of food poisoning. It is simply a case of letting the body's natural defences deal with the infection. In some urgent cases, antibiotics may be prescribed, but such treatments can have the disadvantage of extending the time during which the patient carries the germs. A doctor therefore needs to decide whether the infection is serious enough to warrant the use of antibiotics.