Food Poisoning – the FACTS

food poisoning fitness to work

What is food poisoning?

Most food poisoning is caused by eating or drinking food which is contaminated. Contamination may be caused by any of the following:


  • Most food poisoning is caused by bacteria such as Campylobacter or viruses such as Norovirus.
  • Foods most commonly involved with food poisoning are raw meat and poultry, shellfish, rice and dairy products.
  • Most food poisoning is related to food that has been prepared in the home. However, food poisoning is also commonly associated with eating out or with takeaway food.
  • There is usually no way of telling whether food is contaminated. Contaminated food often looks, tastes and smells perfectly normal.

What are the symptoms of food poisoning?

Symptoms will vary depending on which type of food poisoning the sufferer has, but will usually include some or all of the following;

Vomiting Diarrhoea Aching muscles
Headache Fever Fatigue
Nausea Abdominal pain Stomach cramps

Some contamination like chemicals and poisons can make you ill very quickly (within minutes), but most bacteria do not. Bacteria take quite a long time to make you ill because they have to increase in numbers inside your body before causing illness. This can take up to three days, so the contaminated food may not be the last food you ate.  It is natural to think that it is the last meal which made you ill, but this may not be the case. The time taken for a bug to cause symptoms after consuming contaminated food is often referred to as the ‘incubation time’. Obtaining details of each of the symptoms along with their start times and durations can give us an indication as to what organism has caused the poisoning.

How do I catch food poisoning?

  • By eating or drinking contaminated food, like undercooked meat, poultry and eggs;
  • By touching contaminated food, like undercooked meat, poultry and eggs and then eating or preparing some other food without washing and drying your hands;
  • From someone who is ill with food poisoning who hasn’t washed and dried their hands properly after using the toilet.

How will I know if someone has food poisoning?

They will probably have vomiting and diarrhoea along with some or all of the other symptoms. If you think they have food poisoning, they should contact their Doctor. He/she should ask to provide a stool sample. This will be tested in a laboratory to find out the cause.

How do I avoid food poisoning?

  • Cook all meat properly especially chicken and minced meats;
  • Avoid unpasteurised milk and cheeses etc;
  • Take care not to let blood from thawing meat drip onto other foods in your fridge;
  • Wash and dry your hands often, and always between handling raw and cooked foods and after using the toilet;
  • Keep your kitchen clean, especially your dishcloths and work surfaces;
  • Keep your fridge working between 20C and 50C;
  • Keep raw and cooked food separate, including using separate chopping boards for raw and cooked foods.

What should I do if I have vomiting and/or diarrhoea?

  • Good personal hygiene to avoid spreading the infection to other people;
  • Personal hygiene is also very important when looking after someone else who is ill with food poisoning in order to avoid contracting the disease;
  • Avoid contact with as many people as possible until you have been clear of symptoms for at least 48 hours; and
  • Drink plenty of water, even though you may not feel like it. Water loss (dehydration) can be serious over a period of several days.

How long should I stay off work?

  • People working with food must stay off work until they have been symptom free for two days. You must tell your employer about your illness.
  • People working with vulnerable groups e.g. the young, elderly or those in poor health, must stay off work until they have been symptom free for two days. You must tell your employer about your illness.
  • Young children should stay away from playgroups, childminders or nursery school until they have been symptom free for two days.

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