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Food poisoning

We investigate cases of food poisoning and other food-borne illnesses to prevent spreading within the community and to try to establish possible causes.

What are the main causes of food poisoning?

  • not cooking food properly throughout
  • preparing food too far in advance and leaving it out at room temperature
  • not defrosting the food properly or sufficiently (it should always be defrosted in the refrigerator and always defrosted thoroughly)
  • poor personal hygiene such as not washing your hands after visits to the toilet or before preparing food
  • preparing cooked or 'ready to eat' food on the same surface as raw meat or raw food, without thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting in-between
  • storing food incorrectly - some foods should be kept in the fridge until cooked or eaten, 'ready to eat' food should always be stored above anything which is not.

The time taken from eating suspect food to feeling unwell varies considerably.  The time period can be up to 15 days.  It may not always be the last meal you ate that is the cause of your illness.

What are the symptoms? 

The symptoms of food poisoning can vary, depending on what has caused it.

Common symptoms include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • abdominal cramps and diarrhoea
  • fever (sometimes).

Occasionally, food poisoning can be very serious and even cause death.  Therefore, it is important to prevent food poisoning with good food hygiene.

There are many types of food-borne illness caused by bacteria. The following are the most common:


Symptoms include stomach cramps and severe diarrhoea but rarely vomiting.  They can begin 2-10 days after eating contaminated food but usually within 2-5 days.  Main sources are undercooked chicken and other meats, handling pets. cross-contamination with other foods, raw milk and contaminated water.  This organism is the most common cause of acute diarrhoea in adults.


Symptoms include stomach pain, fever, diarrhoea and vomiting.  It usually takes about 12-48 hours for the illness to develop.  Symptoms can be much more severe in the young and elderly.  Main sources are undercooked meat and poultry, untreated milk and raw or undercooked eggs.  This organism is the second most common form of food poisoning.


Noroviruses are a group of viruses that are the most common cause of gastroenteritis (stomach and gut upset) in the UK with approximately one million people of all ages being infected each year.  They are also known as 'winter vomiting viruses', small round structured viruses or norwalk-like viruses.

E.coli 0157

Symptoms include severe bloody diarrhoea, and the infection can lead to serious kidney damage in children.  Main sources are undercooked beefburgers and minced beef, contaminated cooked meats and unpasteurised milk.  This organism has also been linked to farms.

Staphylococcus aureus

Symptoms include stomach pains and vomiting, 1-6 hours after eating and it usually takes 12- 24 hours for symptoms to subside.  This bacteria is found on humans (particularly in the nose, throat, skin and ears) and is transferred to food through poor hygiene practices.


Mild flu-like illness in healthy people, but which can cause septicaemia and meningitis in the young and elderly.  Listeria can lead to stillbirth and miscarriage or meningitis in the newborn baby.  Sources include unpasteurised soft cheeses (such as brie and camembert) and meat pates.  Prevention of food poisoning from listeria is more difficult than other organisms as it can multiply at refrigeration temperatures.

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, our environmental health officers need to know so they can investigate the business in question.  If the officers find a problem with the business's food hygiene practices, and get the business to improve them, this could help prevent other people suffering from food poisoning.

It is essential that you inform your employer or environmental health officer if you:

  • are a food handler whose work is connected with the preparation or handling of food and drink
  • are a health care or nursery member of staff or staff who have direct contact or contact through serving food, with highly susceptible patients or persons to whom food poisoning would have particularly serious consequences.
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