Food poisoning

You may think you have food poisoning and it is still all too common, but the majority of cases of diarrhoea and vomiting, the classic symptoms, are not due to food poisoning at all, but to viruses.

Most families will have been affected by outbreaks of vomiting, and they can be a problem in schools, rest homes and other institutions because the viruses are very easily spread. Viral gastroenteritis usually runs its course in 24-48 hours with no longer term consequences for the individual affected. If your main symptom is diarrhoea then it is more likely to be food poisoning.

See your GP

If you have got food poisoning, then there are many types with differing symptoms. If you think you have got food poisoning then you should arrange to see your GP as soon as possible, (or have your GP visit you if your symptoms are severe) and mention that you think it is food poisoning. They may question you and if agrees that food poisoning is a possibility they will want you to submit a specimen for laboratory analysis. It will take a few days for the results to come through.

Food history

As soon as you can write down everything you ate for at least three days before your symptoms began. Most food poisoning is not caused by the last meal you ate. This will be really useful if an investigation is needed later, by which time you will probably not be able to remember what you ate.

Hygiene Precautions

You need to make sure that you don't infect anyone else, so follow these precautions:

Hand washing

Thorough hand washing with soap in warm running water and drying is the most important factor in preventing the spread of gastrointestinal infections. Carers must wash hand after:

  1. handling patients
  2. their bedding
  3. their clothing, or
  4. being in the sick room
  5. before preparing or serving food

Patients and attendants must always wash their hands:

  1. after using the toilet
  2. before meals

Towels must not be shared.

Institutions, particularly schools, are encouraged to use liquid soap and disposable towels or air hand dryers.

If more than one toilet is available, designate separate facilities for those who are ill, and those who are well.

Disposal of excretions and soiled materials

At home, patients should normally use a flush toilet.

If urinals or bedpans have to be used attendants should, if possible, wear disposable plastic gloves and wash their hands thoroughly after attending the patient. Soiled clothing and bed linen should be washed in a domestic machine with a 'hot cycle'. If the amount of soiling makes this impractical, as much faecal material as possible should be flushed away in running water, into the toilet bowl if possible. Further soaking in disinfectant before washing to reduce contamination is not generally considered necessary and may bleach coloured fabrics.


Toilet seats, flush handles, wash-hand basin taps, and toilet door handles should be cleaned daily, or more often, depending on how often they are used. Toilet seats should be wiped after use with household detergent solution and a bleach-based sanitising solution diluted according to the manufacturer's instructions. Alternatively, alcohol based wipes may be used on seats and other hard surfaces. These precautions are especially important in schools, nursery schools, and residential institutions. Bedpans and urinals should be emptied into the toilet bowl, and then washed with disinfectant and rinsed.


Everyone should be instructed in personal hygiene, and in the hygienic preparation and serving of food. This teaching should be reinforced in those suffering from or who are contacts of patients with intestinal infections.

What happens next?

If food poisoning bugs are found in your sample the Environmental Health Officer is notified and he will contact you to follow up the diagnosis, and try and find out where you got the infection. If you are the only case, either in your family or in the wider community, then it will not be possible to prove where the infection came from, unless some of the suspect food was also available for examination and contained the same bugs. However, with a full dietary history for the days before you became ill we may be able to give and indication of possible sources. If we do establish a link between your illness and food, we will follow this up with any food business involved.

Want to know more?

There is a wealth of information available on the web. For information about the different types of food poisoning and hygiene see foodlink website.  For additional information and guidance on food hygiene see the Eatwell site

Information Leaflets:

Noro Virus


Salmonella and Reptiles



For further information please contact the Food Safety Team