Food poisoning and infectious diseases

Food poisoning is an acute illness which usually occurs within 1-36 hours of eating contaminated or poisonous food. Symptoms normally last from 1-7 days and include one or more of the following:

  • abdominal pain
  • diarrhoea
  • vomiting
  • nausea and fever

What to do if you think you have food poisoning

For general medical advice or diagnosis and treatment you should always contact your doctor first. Food poisoning is a notifiable disease. If a case of food poisoning has been formally confirmed by a doctor or hospital (by analysis of a stool sample) these details are passed to Environmental Health. If you think that a particular food has caused your illness then you can contact our Environmental Health; this is particularly important if you yourself work with food.

If you work with food or "vulnerable groups", ie.young children, the elderly or anyone with reduced immunity (eg in a hospital or nursing home) you must tell your employer. You should not return to work until 48 hours after your symptoms have stopped.

What we do

We will investigate reports of food poisoning and infectious disease cases

  • to try and establish the cause of the illness;
  • to investigate food businesses, if they are the likely source
  • try to prevent further spread by providing advice on general hygiene precautions

What can I do to prevent the spread of food poisoning?

If you suffer from food poisoning type symptoms (particularly diarrhoea and vomiting) you must observe strict personal hygiene to prevent the spread to others and also prevent re-infection.

  • wash your hands regularly with soap and hot water, particularly after using the toilet. Young children must be supervised in this and a separate hand towel should be used by the infected person
  • wipe the toilet seat, flush, door handle and taps regularly with a disinfectant
  • avoid preparing food for others whilst you have symptoms
  • tell your employer if you work with food or other high-risk occupations (as above). We advise that you stay off work for until 48 hours after your symptoms have gone

How can I prevent food poisoning?

There are four main things to remember for good food hygiene - we've called them the 4 Cs. You should think about them whenever you're in the kitchen.

Cleanliness

You can prevent the spread of harmful bacteria by observing good personal hygiene and keeping work surfaces, utensils etc. clean.

And remember:..don't handle food when you are ill with stomach problems, such as diarrhoea or vomiting and don't touch food if you have sores or cuts, unless they are covered with a waterproof dressing.

Cooking

Proper cooking kills food poisoning bacteria so it's important to cook food thoroughly, especially meat.

When reheating food make sure it's piping hot all the way through and don't reheat it more than once.

Chilling

It's very important to keep certain foods at the right temperature to prevent bacteria growing or toxins forming. Always look at the label on the packaging. If it says that the food needs to be refrigerated, make sure you keep it in the fridge and check that your fridge is cold enough (about 5˚C) by having a thermometer in it.

If food that needs to be chilled is left standing at room temperature, food poising bacteria can grow and multiply to dangerous levels. Cooked leftovers should be cooled quickly and then put in the fridge. Putting food in shallow containers and dividing it into smaller amounts will speed up the cooling process.

Cross-contamination

Cross-contamination is the transfer of bacteria from a source (often raw foods) to other foods. The bacteria can be transferred directly when one food touches (or drips onto) another, or indirectly, for example from hands, equipment, work surfaces or knives and other utensils. Cross-contamination is one of the major causes of food poisoning.

To prevent cross-contamination:

  • always wash your hands thoroughly after touching raw food and then wash your sink taps
  • keep raw and ready-to-eat food separate
  • store raw meat in sealable containers at the bottom of the fridge, so it can't drip onto other foods
  • use different chopping boards/work surfaces for raw food and ready-to-eat food
  • clean knives and other utensils thoroughly after use with raw food

Infectious disease control

We are responsible along with Surrey and Sussex Health Protection Unit (SSHPU) for infectious disease control within the Borough and investigate and prevent the spread of cases of infectious diseases such as Legionnaires disease, tuberculosis and food borne illness.

Campylobacter

Symptoms include stomach cramps and severe diarrhoea but rarely vomiting. They can begin 2-10 days after eating contaminated food but usually within 2-5 days. Main sources are undercooked chicken and other meats, handling pets, cross-contamination to other foods, raw milk and contaminated water. This organism is the most common cause of acute diarrhoea in adults.

Salmonella

Symptoms include stomach pain, fever, diarrhoea and vomiting. It usually takes about 12-48 hours for the illness to develop. Symptoms can be much more severe in the young and elderly. Main sources are undercooked meat and poultry, untreated milk and raw or undercooked eggs. Salmonella is the second most common form of food poisoning.

E.Coli 0157

Symptoms include severe bloody diarrhoea, and the infection can lead to serious kidney damage in children. Main sources are undercooked beef burgers and minced beef, contaminated cooked meats and unpasteurised milk. This organism has also been linked to contact with farm animals.

Staphylococcus Aureus

Symptoms include stomach pains and vomiting 1-6 hours after eating and it usually takes 12-24 hours for symptoms to subside. This bacteria is found on humans (particularly in the nose, throat, skin and ears) and is transferred to food through poor hygiene practices.

Listeria

Mild flu-like illness in healthy people, but can cause septicaemia and meningitis in the young and elderly. Listeria can lead to stillbirth and miscarriage or meningitis in the new-born baby. Sources include unpasteurised soft cheeses (such as Brie and Camembert) and meat pates. Prevention of food poisoning from Listeria is more difficult than other organisms as it can multiply slowly at refrigeration temperatures. It is recommended therefore that pregnant women do not eat the above products.

Viruses

Viruses can cause vomiting and diarrhoea and are highly infectious. They can spread very easily from person to person or through the air. They are not generally spread in food. Symptoms tend to start very quickly and usually consist of violent vomiting which may be followed by diarrhoea. Symptoms tend to resolve within 24-48 hours and people will often refer to these as '24 hour bugs'

Legionnaires' disease

Legionnaires' disease is a potentially fatal form of pneumonia which can affect anybody, but which principally affects those who are susceptible because of age, illness, pre-existing medical conditions, smoking etc. Further information can be found on the Health and Safety Executive website.