We get food poisoning from eating food that contains harmful bacteria, viruses or poisonous substances known as toxins.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of food poisoning can vary, depending on what has caused it.
Common symptoms include;
- abdominal cramps and diarrhoea
- fever (sometimes)
Occasionally, food poisoning can be very serious and even cause death. So it's important to prevent food poisoning with good food hygiene.
How does it happen?
When someone swallows bacteria that cause food poisoning, there is a delay (incubation period) before symptoms begin. This is because most bacteria that cause food poisoning need time to multiply in the intestine.
The length of the incubation period depends on the type of bacteria and how many are swallowed. It could be hours or days. This means that:
It may not have been the last meal you ate that caused the food poisoning symptoms.
What should I do?
There are three main things to consider when you have food poisoning:
- rehydration - drink plenty of fluids and perhaps use rehydration powders available from pharmacies
- medical assistance - if you are concerned about your health or the health of someone else, contact NHS Direct (111) or your GP for advice (especially in the case of pregnant women, elderly people, children and people who are already ill)
- reporting - if you think that your illness was caused by food prepared outside the home, contact us using the contact details at the bottom of the page. We may need to investigate to ensure no one else is at risk from food poisoning
What if I Have Food Poisoning Symptoms and Work in the Food Business?
If you are a food handler you must not prepare food if you have food poisoning symptoms.
Any person working in a food handling area must report certain illnesses or conditions if there is any likelihood of them directly or in directly contaminating food.
Normally you should wait a minimum of 48 hours after symptoms have cleared up before being allowed anywhere in the business where you might contaminate food.
Contact us for further guidance.
More information about food practice is available on the Food Standards Agency website.