Infectious diseases and food poisoning

Environmental health is responsible for ensuring that incidents and outbreaks of food poisoning and infectious disease within the Cheshire East area are investigated and controlled. Particular attention is paid to those individuals who through their work could pose an increased risk of spreading infection. These include food handlers, health care staff and those that work with pre school children and vulnerable individuals.

Investigations may include sampling of individuals, questionnaires to establish foods eaten, places visited or contact with others and inspection of premises that are linked to an infection.

The causes of food poisoning

Food poisoning may occur due to the consumption of food contaminated with chemicals, bacteria or the harmful produces produced by them.

The symptoms of food poisoning

  • stomach pains
  • vomiting
  • nausea
  • headaches
  • fever
  • diarrhoea

Onset times vary but the duration of illness is normally short – between 1 – 3 days. This can vary though dependent upon the general health of the infected individual.

What to do if you think you have food poisoning

If you feel you are suffering from the symptoms of food poisoning you should visit your doctor who may arrange for a stool sample for testing. These samples are sent off to a laboratory and analysed to determine the type of illness that you have.

If food poisoning is confirmed your doctor will notify the Environmental Health Division who have a legal obligation to investigate all cases.

If you are a food handler or work with elderly or vulnerable people then you will need to advise your employers immediately and will need to avoid your usual work until 48 hours after the symptoms have disappeared. The Department of Health Leaflet ‘Food Handlers, Fitness to Work’ provides information on your responsibilities in these circumstances.

Avoiding food poisoning

There are ways in which you can minimise your chances of suffering from food poisoning.

Cleanliness

It is important to wash your hand regularly using soap and hot water and in particular after visiting the toilet, handing raw foods and before touching ready to eat foods.

Cooking

Proper cooking kills food poisoning bacteria such as listeria, salmonella, E.coli 0157 and campylobacter. It is important to cook food thoroughly, especially meat; don’t just rely on cooking times on labels always check food and where meat is concerned ensure that juices run clear. Food should be piping hot all the way through so check the thickest part of the food.

If you reheat food make the same checks all over again and don’t reheat it more than once.

Chilling

It is very important to keep certain foods at the right temperature to prevent bacteria growing or toxins forming. Always check the label on food packaging to make sure you are storing it correctly; foods kept at room temperature that should be chilled will quickly grow bacteria, which will multiply to dangerous levels.

Any cooked leftovers should be cooled quickly and stored in the fridge or freezer. To speed up the process separate the food in to smaller portions.

Cross Contamination

Cross Contamination is the transfer of bacteria from foods (usually raw) to other foods. Bacteria can be transferred by hands, equipment, work surfaces or other utensils that come in to contact with the food.

In particular you should ensure that you wash your hands after touching raw foods, keep your raw and ready to eat foods separately and use different chopping boards and utensils for raw and cooked foods, which you should clean thoroughly after use.

When storing food in the fridge make sure your raw meat is in sealable containers at the bottom of the fridge where it cannot drip on to other foods.

Further help and information on infectious diseases