Food poisoning is caused by eating contaminated food. Bacteria, viruses or toxins which are naturally present in meat, fish or plants are usually the cause of food poisoning. The most common causes of food poisoning are bacteria such as Campylobacter, Salmonella and Staphylococcus aureus.
The incubation period (time taken from eating the contaminated food to feeling unwell) varies with each type of bacteria and, in some cases, may occur up to 15 days later. This means that the last meal you ate before getting ill is unlikely to be the cause of your symptoms.
People with food poisoning may have a range of symptoms but the most common are abdominal pains, diarrhoea and vomiting. Food poisoning is confirmed through the laboratory analysis of a stool sample submitted through GPs or the Food Health Team.
It is important to note that not all people suffering with diarrhoea and vomitting will have food poisoning. Most of the bacteria or viruses causing food poisoning are infectious and can easily be passed to other people by poor hygiene. If you have food poisoning type symptoms you must be particularly careful with personal hygiene to prevent the spread of any infection. A very important control in preventing the spread of infection will be thorough and regular hand washing.
Staff with diarrhoea or vomiting should not return to work until they have had no symptoms for 48 hours.
Anyone working in a food business or health care/nursery worker must not handle food or enter a food handling area if they:
- are suffering from, or carrying, a disease likely to be transmitted through food
- have infected wounds, skin infections, sores
- have diarrhoea.
Staff who are likely to come into contact with food through their work must tell their manager immediately if they have any of the above.
The local health protection unit notifies GPs and the Food Health Team of any patients suffering from food poisoning where this has been confirmed through the results of a stool sample. The team will then take the necessary steps to investigate the source of the infection and provide advice about preventing future infection.
If you have any further queries relating to food poisoning or infectious disease, you can contact the Food Health Team.