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Food safety

Food poisoning

Food poisoning is any disease of an infectious or toxic nature caused by the consumption of food or drink and usually refers to diarrhoea and/or vomiting caused by bacteria, viruses and parasites.

Which Bacteria Cause Food Poisoning?

The bacteria most commonly found is Campylobacter sp which is associated with raw or undercooked meat (especially poultry), unpasteurised milk, bird-pecked milk on doorsteps, untreated water, domestic pets and contact with farm animals. In most cases the contaminated food is not identified. Salmonella is the next most commonly found group of bacteria.

  • Other bacteria which cause food poisoning include Staphylococcus aureus, Clostridium perfringens and Bacillus cereus.
  • E. coli 0157 can cause a particularly serious type of food poisoning.

How Do I Know I Have Food Poisoning?

Common symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhoea. You may also have a high temperature and headache. To confirm the exact cause a sample of your faeces has to be tested in a laboratory. Your GP or local Environmental Health Department.

How Quickly Does It Happen?

Some types of food poisoning can produce symptoms within a few hours of the contaminated food being eaten, whilst others may not occur for several days. For example, Campylobacter which is very common, usually takes 2 to 5 days to produce symptoms.

What Should I Do If I Have Food Poisoning?

  • Drink plenty of fluids and perhaps use rehydration powders available from pharmacies.
  • Seek medical assistance - if you are concerned about your health or the health of someone else, contact NHS 111 or your GP for advice (especially in the case of pregnant women, elderly people, children and people who are already ill). If there is blood in the faeces medical advice should be sought urgently.
  • reporting - if you think that your illness was caused by food prepared outside the home, report the incident to your local Environmental Health service.

Why Is It Important To Report Food Poisoning?

If you think your illness has been caused by food from a restaurant or other food business, the local Environmental Health Department needs to know so it can investigate the business in question. If the Environmental Health Officers find a problem with food safety at the premises, improvements can be made which could help prevent other people suffering food poisoning.

What Can Be Done To Avoid Food Poisoning?

Whilst you cannot prevent food poisoning outbreaks when they occur outside the home, you can protect your own family by following these basic rules:

  • Prevent the growth of bacteria by ensuring that all food stored in the refrigerator is covered and adequately chilled (ideally around 5 degrees Centigrade) and take care that chilled or frozen foods are not allowed to warm up in a hot car on the way home from the shops.
  • Always wash your hands after visiting the toilet, after handling raw meat or eggs, and before touching ready-to-eat foods. Keep cuts and sores covered with a waterproof dressing.
  • Make sure that food is cooked right through and piping hot in the middle. Make sure that deep frozen food is thawed before cooking. Burgers should be cooked until there are no pink bits left and the juices run clear.
  • Keep raw and ready-to-eat foods separate.
  • Do not re-use utensils with which you have prepared raw eggs or meat without first washing them with hot water and detergent. Do not allow juices from raw meat to come into contact with other foods.
  • Avoid eating raw eggs or uncooked foods made from them.
  • Check 'use-by' dates. Do not eat food which is passed its use-by date.
  • Wash salads thoroughly before eating.
  • Do not drink any type of unpasteurised milk.
  • Do not let pets or other animals in the kitchen when preparing food.
  • Do not wash pets food bowls with the family dishes.

How Can I Prevent The Infection Being Passed To Other Members Of The Family?

To prevent the infection being passed to other members of the family or to anyone else, the following precautions are necessary:

  • Frequent and proper hand-washing with soap (preferably liquid soap) and warm running water is vital. Ensure that hands are washed thoroughly before preparing or serving food and drinks, after cleaning or using the toilet, after dealing with anyone with diarrhoea, after changing the baby's nappy, after handling soiled clothing or bed linen.
  • Do not share towels or flannels in the bathroom.
  • The toilet bowl, toilet seat and flush handle, door handles and wash-basin taps should be cleaned frequently with a suitable household cleaner and wiped with a disinfectant. Rubber household gloves should be worn.
  • Take care when changing nappies or cleaning up after someone who has been sick or had diarrhoea.
  • Be extra careful with soiled laundry including nappies, underclothing, bed clothes and soiled sheets. Where possible, soak the laundry in a fabric disinfectant before washing. After loading clothing into the washing machine the outer surfaces should be wiped down with disinfectant. This is particularly important if the machine is in the kitchen. Bleach or disinfectant should be diluted according to the instructions on the container and never mixed. Keep disinfectants away from children. If using bleach remember that it can remove colour from fabrics and carpets, and can irritate the skin.
  • Before handling or serving any food, wash your hands. Do not allow ill members of the family to assist in the kitchen until they have been free from symptoms for 48 hours.
  • Avoid hand-to-mouth contact, and teach your children to do the same.
  • Even when you are no longer suffering from sickness or diarrhoea, you may have the harmful bacteria in your body for a few weeks. You must still practice good personal hygiene to prevent any spread of infection.

When Can I Return To Work?

You should be regarded as potentially infectious and should normally stay away from work or school until free from diarrhoea and vomiting.

If your job involves handling food you must tell your boss if you know or suspect you are unwell. 

If you work in the health service or are a carer you must notify your employer when you are suffering from a severe stomach upset, as contact with highly susceptible patients or persons could have particularly serious consequences.

Young children, especially those under the age of 5 years, may find it difficult to practice good standards of personal hygiene. Depending on the type of infection they may be excluded from school or nursery until results of samples show that they are no longer infectious.

Last updated Monday, 1st February 2016

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