Food poisoning

Food poisoning is an illness that is caused by eating or drinking food, water or milk that has either germs or toxins present.

It usually gives you symptoms such as sickness, diarrhoea, abdominal pains, fever and headache. It can occur between 6 hours to 11 days after eating/drinking the infected food or water, depending on the type of germ or toxin responsible.

The illness is usually short lived but can be serious in the very young or the elderly. Recovery can take between a few hours to several weeks depending again on the type of germ or toxin responsible.

You can find out more from the council leaflets on:

  • Salmonella
  • Campylobacter
  • E. coli/ E. coli 0157
  • Dysentery
  • Listeria
  • Cryptosporidia
  • Giardia, and
  • Viral Gastroenteritis

If you think you have food poisoning

Visit your family doctor who will advise you what to do. He may ask for a stool sample. You should tell your employer immediately if you are suffering from sickness or diarrhoea and:

  • Handle food in the course of your work work with children; or
  • work with the elderly.

Do not go to work until you have been without symptoms for 48 hours. Keep children under 5 away from nurseries etc until they have had 48 hours without symptoms. Avoid passing the infection to anyone else by washing your hands thoroughly with soap and hot water after going to the toilet.

Your doctor will contact the Environmental Health and Housing Team if he/she suspects that your illness was caused by food. An officer from the Environmental Health and Housing Team may contact you to find out where you could have obtained the infection and to ensure it cannot be passed on.

What are the causes of food poisoning?

The following are the most common causes of food poisoning:

  • Foods such as undercooked/raw poultry or food that has been in contact with it through incorrect storage or use of equipment contaminated by it;
  • Unpasteurised milk or untreated water;
  • Person to person contact caused by poor hygiene;
  • Contact with infected animals/pets; and
  • Drinking from milk bottles which have been pecked by birds.

How can I prevent food poisoning?

Take care to ensure food, particularly meat, eggs and poultry are thoroughly cooked or reheated. This is especially important if you are using a microwave as the centre is the last place to be cooked (all meat juices should be clear).


Thoroughly defrost large joints or poultry (in a large container in the fridge) before cooking. Take care if washing poultry, as splashes can spread germs to work surfaces and equipment, as well as to you. Wash your hands after handling raw meat, poultry or eggs - remember they could contain germs.

Wash your hands after using the toilet, changing a nappy, dirty washing or emptying the rubbish. Do not re-use containers or equipment, especially chopping boards and knives that have been used for raw meat or uncooked eggs, unless you have thoroughly washed them.

Avoid eating raw eggs or dishes containing raw or undercooked eggs.

Do not drink unpasteurised milk.

Store food correctly in the fridge. It should be covered and at a temperature of around 5c. Don't forget when shopping that cold and frozen food may warm up in the hot boot of a car - use a cool bag where possible.

Do not pack raw and cooked foods together.

Do not use food after its use by date.

Remember when making packed lunches that there may not be anywhere cool to store them before they are eaten. Get the Packed Lunch Leaflet Information for advice.

Wash fruit and vegetables before eating.

If you have milk delivered, make sure that the lids are protected from the birds as they can infect the milk.

Keep pets out of the kitchen and always wash hands after handling pets.

Use mains supply water or water that has been treated eg chlorinated.

When travelling abroad, use bottled water for drinking and cleaning teeth, and be wary of ice and salads in countries which have no treated water.


If the symptoms are severe then fluid must be replaced to prevent dehydration. In some cases, the doctor may prescribe medication. In all cases which involve children or the elderly you must tell the doctor. If you need more advice about food poisoning or you want to make a complaint about a particular premises, then contact the Environmental Health Section with the details.