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Food poisoning

Food poisoning is an acute illness, usually of sudden onset, brought about by eating contaminated or poisonous food. The symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal pain. These symptoms may start between one and seven days after eating contaminated food, but usually start to appear within 8 to 72 hours and can continue for a week or more.

If you think you may be suffering from food poisoning, you should see your doctor.

Food handlers suffering from food poisoning should remain off work until at least 48 hours after they last exhibited symptoms.


Food poisoning can be caused by:

  • bacteria or their toxins
  • chemicals
  • metals
  • poisonous plants
  • viruses

Bacterial food poisoning is by far the commonest with some 30,000 cases being reported each year. Those in vulnerable groups (such as the very young, the elderly or those who have weakened immunity to disease) are most at risk.

There are many thousands of types of bacteria, most are harmless, however a small number can cause food poisoning such as salmonella, campylobacter and E. Coli.

The bacteria that cause illness come from a number of sources including:

  • raw foods (especially meat, poultry and eggs)
  • pests and pets
  • people
  • dirt and food waste


The prevention of food poisoning can be achieved by following a number of simple principles:

  • prevent contamination of food
  • adopt good practices of personal hygiene (e.g. hand washing)
  • keep foods covered
  • keep raw and cooked foods apart
  • stop pests from entering food rooms
  • do not allow pets into the kitchen
  • keep waste covered
  • keep foods cold – below 5C
  • keep foods hot – above 63C
  • keep preparation time to a minimum
  • kill bacteria present in food by cooking thoroughly at a suitable temperature for sufficient time

Further information can be found on the Food Standards Agency website.