Food poisoning

The Food Safety Team investigates food poisoning cases. Bacteria are responsible for most food poisoning cases but poisonous plants, chemicals or metals may occasionally cause problems.

In addition to food poisoning, other diseases may be spread by food eg typhoid and paratyphoid fever, campylobacter enteritis and listeriosis.

If you have been diagnosed as suffering from a communicable disease (usually following a request from your doctor to provide a faecal specimen or blood test) then depending on the type of infection we will telephone you, visit you, or send you a questionnaire to complete to try and find out where the infection has come from. The infection may have come from contaminated food, however many infectious diseases can be transmitted through non food routes such as environmental sources.

The purpose of the investigation is to identify the source of the infection, to prevent the spread of illness and to stop it from happening again.

Information and guidance on a wide range of infectious diseases may be found on the Public Health England website.

If you require medical assistance you are advised to see your GP, call the NHS on 111 or visit NHS Choices.

Doctor's surgeries reporting a Notification of Infectious Disease

Please complete the Notification of Infectious Disease form which you can download from this page.

What should I do if I have symptoms of food poisoning?

If you suspect you are suffering from food poisoning, you should visit your doctor as soon as possible and submit a faecal sample for examination.

If tests show that you do have food poisoning, we will be told by your doctor and we will write to you.

Why do I need to give a faecal sample?

This is one of the ways to identify the bacteria that has caused your illness.

You may feel better but still have bacteria that can pass onto others.

Please ensure you provide a sample as soon as possible if requested to do so. Please do not provide any urine.

Results will usually be available within 5 working days.

What do I do if I still have the food that I think has made me ill?

Keep the food in the fridge and contact us on 01274 434392 for more information. An officer from the team will contact you and may wish to sample the food for microbiological examination to try and identify whether the food was the cause of illness.

Do I need to be excluded from work, school or nursery if I have food poisoning?

Food handlers and care workers:

  • People working with food or in care facilities (hospitals, residential homes, nursing homes, day care nurseries, and childminders) that know or suspect that they, or a member of their household, are suffering from food poisoning must inform their employers immediately. 
  • You should not return to work until you have been symptom free for 48 hours 
  • Once you have returned to work it is important to uphold good personal hygiene as the bacteria can still be passing out of your body when your symptoms have stopped

School children, children who attend day care nursery and childminders:

  • Children, particularly those under 5 years old and those who are unable to toilet themselves, pose a greater risk of spreading infection. It is important that children stay away from school whilst suffering with symptoms of food poisoning and for 48 hours after their symptoms have finished. This will reduce the spread to other children in the school/nursery 
  • Reporting to the school that your child is suffering from symptoms of food poisoning is also very important. Without accurate information the school will be unable to identify if they may have an outbreak situation.

Certain infections, including E.Coli O157 and Salmonella typhi/paratyphi may require exclusion from work or school for a longer period of time until tests show you are no longer carrying the infection.

What do I do if I or a family member has diarrhoea and/or vomiting?

If you or a member of your family is suffering from diarrhoea and/or vomiting, you should follow the advice:

  • Wash your hands after contact with the sick person and also before handling food 
  • Where someone has been ill on the floor or furniture cover any diarrhoea or vomit with absorbent paper kitchen towels. Wrap it carefully in the paper towel, clean up what’s left with another paper towel and either flush the lot down the toilet or put it in a plastic bin liner and put that in the outside bin. Clean the area with hot soapy water and a cloth and a disinfectant (or bleach). Dry the area using paper kitchen towels and throw the cloth and paper towels in the outside bin. If bleach is used then care must be taken as it will damage colours on soft furnishings, may taint food and must be kept safely away from young children 
  • Disinfect door and toilet handles, taps and the toilet seat after use and disinfect the toilet bowl frequently by pouring bleach or toilet cleaner in and letting it stand as long as possible

What causes food poisoning?

The main causes of food poisoning and food borne illness are:

  • Preparing foods too far in advance 
  • Not cooking foods properly 
  • Not defrosting foods correctly 
  • Storing foods incorrectly (too warm) so that bacteria can grow quickly 
  • Cross-contamination of foods after cooking 
  • Infection from people handling foods due to poor hygiene

Who is at risk?

We all are, but babies, young children and the elderly can very quickly become very ill. Pregnant women, people who already have a pre-existing illness and anyone whose immune system is weakened can also be seriously affected.

What are the main symptoms of food poisoning?

The symptoms of food poisoning generally include some or all of the following:

  • diarrhoea 
  • stomach cramps 
  • vomiting 
  • fever 
  • nausea 
  • headache 
  • dizziness

The symptoms may be more severe in the young and the elderly.

It is very important to drink plenty of fluids.

How do I prevent food poisoning?

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) says that a useful way of preventing food poisoning is to remember the four Cs:

  • cleaning 
  • cooking 
  • chilling 
  • avoiding cross-contamination

For further information, please visit the NHS website.

Contact details

Department of Public Health
Environmental Health
5th floor
Britannia House

Phone : 01274 434392