Food poisoning


Food poisoning is a common condition, a sickness that often results in vomiting or diarrhoea and is caused by eating food contaminated with viral or bacterial strains, parasites or toxins. In most cases, it’s not serious and people tend to recover within a few days without treatment.

What causes food poisoning?

• Viruses (such as norovirus or rotavirus) and bacteria (salmonella, E. coli, Campylobacter)

• Parasites

• Moulds, toxins and contaminants

• Allergens

Symptoms of food poisoning

Food poisoning symptoms generally begin within one or two days of eating contaminated food, though they may begin at any points between a few hours and a few weeks later. The primary symptoms include:

• Nausea or vomiting

• Abdominal pain and cramps

• Diarrhoea, which may contain mucus or blood

• A high temperature

• Lack of appetite

• Weakness and aching muscles

How is food poisoning treated?

Most people with food poisoning are able to recover at home within a week or so and can be treated with rest and hydration. Try to eat bland foods (avoiding fatty, fried or spicy foods which may upset a delicate stomach) and don't drink fizzy drinks, alcohol or caffeinated beverages.

When should you consult your Doctor about food poisoning symptoms?

• If diarrhoea continues for longer than seven days and vomiting lasts more than two days

• If you're vomiting frequently and are unable to keep fluids down

• If you're more than 60 years old

• If you're pregnant

• If your diarrhoea contains blood

• If you're showing symptoms of severe dehydration (including extreme tiredness, confusion or a rapid heartbeat)

• If you have an underlying condition (such as diabetes or kidney disease)

• If you have a weak immune system (because of medication or cancer treatment, for example)

• If you think your baby or child has food poisoning

How does food become contaminated?

The most common way to get food poisoning is from foods such as fish, meat and eggs. Food can become contaminated by:

• Not being cooked thoroughly

• Being past its expiry date

• Not being stored correctly, particularly if it needs to be chilled

• Being left unrefrigerated for a long time – this applies to cooked food

• Coming into contact with someone who is ill

• Cross-contamination with surfaces and equipment which are not cleaned between use

How can contamination be prevented?

The easiest way to avoid food poisoning is to try to maintain high standards of personal and food hygiene, particularly when it comes to handling, preparing and storing food.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) recommends remembering the 'four Cs': cleaning, cooking, chilling and (avoiding) cross-contamination. It’s also suggested that you adhere to the storage instructions on packaged foods and don't eat the product after the expiry date.

Next steps

• If you’re experiencing food poisoning symptoms, make sure you rest, hydrate and avoid alcohol, caffeine, fizzy drinks and spicy, fatty or fried foods

• If symptoms are long-lasting or severe, consult your Doctor. They can help you determine whether you have a stomach bug such as gastroenteritis, as symptoms are often similar to food poisoning

• Take preventative measures such as cleaning surfaces, cooking meat thoroughly, keeping food appropriately chilled and avoiding cross-contamination