What should I do if I think I have food poisoning?
If you think you have food poisoning, you should consult your GP and explain your symptoms. To confirm your illness your doctor will ask you to submit a faecal / vomit sample. You should consult your doctor immediately if the person affected is a baby, elderly or has an existing illness or condition or if the symptoms are prolonged or severe (e.g. bloody diarrhoea). If food poisoning is confirmed the Food Safety team will receive notification from the Public Health Agency.
Often you assume the last thing you ate caused your illness but food poisoning bacteria may take up to 3 days (in some cases even longer) before any symptoms are experienced.
Infectious disease caused by viruses are also a common source of human illness, spread through person to person contact with infected people, airborne transmission and / or contact with infected materials.
What causes food poisoning?
Food poisoning can be caused by food or drink that is contaminated with bacteria, viruses, chemicals or toxins. 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 from food poisoning?
Anyone can contract food poisoning, however, babies, young children and the elderly can become ill very quickly and are more at risk. Pregnant women, people who already have a pre-existing illness, and anyone whose immune system is weakened can also be seriously affected by food borne illness.
What are the main symptoms of food poisoning?
The symptoms of food poisoning generally include some or all of the following:
- stomach cramps
In extreme circumstances food poisoning can result in death, usually due to health complications or infections, particularly in vulnerable people.
Often people assume the last thing they ate caused their illness but food poisoning bacteria may take up to 3 days before any symptoms are experienced.
Infectious disease caused by viruses are also a common source of human illness spread through person to person contact with infected people, airborne transmission and/or contact with infected materials.
What should I do if I think I have food poisoning?
If you think you have food poisoning, you should consult your GP and explain your symptoms. To confirm your illness, he/she will ask you to submit a stool/vomit samples. Consult your doctor immediately if the person affected is a baby, elderly or has an existing illness or condition or if symptoms are prolonged or severe (bloody diarrhoea).
Once the Food Safety Team receive a confirmed notification of food poisoning notification from the Public Health Agency or an alleged case of food poisoning, we will contact the person with the symptoms and ask them the following questions:
- what and where they’ve eaten before their illness
- details of the symptoms
- whether they’ve been on holiday abroad
- whether or not their GP has taken a faecal sample, and
- whether anybody else they ate with also experienced any symptoms. We may request that person provides a faecal sample if they haven’t already done so.
In the course of our investigation we try to establish the cause of the food poisoning, inspect food premises where necessary, provide advice on precautions which should be taken, especially to people in groups where there is a high risk of passing on the infection - this includes food handlers, young children and carers of very young, elderly or ill people. Even when the symptoms have cleared, you may still carry and excrete the bacteria for several weeks. Close contacts may also carry and excrete the bacteria without any symptoms.
With some types of food poisoning, people in high risk groups who are carrying the bacteria, must not return to work until they have been cleared as fit to do so.
The purpose of this investigation is to try to prevent the spread of illness within the community and to try to establish possible causes. Advice is also given to the patient on how to prevent the spread of disease within the home.
Returning to Work/School after Illness
If a person with symptoms is a food handler or health care or nursery worker who has direct contact or contact through serving food, with highly susceptible patients or people in whom an intestinal infection would have serious consequences, they can’t return to work until they are symptom-free for 48 hours. They must also inform their employer of their symptoms. Further information is available from the Food Standards Agency Website www.food.gov.uk
Parents or guardians of children aged under five years or children or adults unable to implement good standards of personal hygiene, are advised to keep them away from school or other establishments until they’ve also been symptom-free for 48 hours.
Infection control advice:
If you, or a member of your family, are suffering from the symptoms of food poisoning, it’s recommended that you follow the advice below to try and prevent the spread of the illness:
- Wash your hands after using the toilet, attending to a sick person and handling soiled bedding etc. and before handling food.
- Avoid preparing food for other people. Notify your employer if you work with children or the elderly.
- Don’t handle or prepare food as part of your job under any circumstances.
- Don’t return to work until 48 hours after the symptoms have ceased.
- Don’t use the same towel or face cloth as someone who is suffering with food borne illness.
- Clear up soiling accidents straight away, 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.
- Keep dirty laundry away from food and food surfaces.
For further advice or information you can contact a member of the Food Safety Team at Ards and North Down on 0300 013 33 33
Patient Factsheets Available: [Coming soon]
Bacteria & Symptom Chart PDF documents click and open factsheet
Food Poisoning Factsheet
Collecting a Stool Factsheet