Food Poisoning

Food poisoning is an illness caused by eating or drinking food that has been contaminated by germs.

What are the symptoms of food poisoning?

The usual symptoms are diarrhoea, sickness and stomach-ache, sometimes accompanied by headache, tiredness and a high temperature . Food poisoning bacteria take quite a long time to reproduce inside the human gut and some people are more resistant than others so it may be some time before there are enough bacteria to cause illness. Do not therefore assume that food poisoning is a result of the last meal you ate - it can take two, or even three or more days before symptoms show.

There is generally no treatment but sufferers should drink plenty of fluids and rest. Symptoms usually last a few days but if they persist or become severe, then a doctor should be consulted.

Food poisoning can spread very easily, especially in families, nurseries and schools. Wash hands thoroughly after using the toilet to avoid spreading the infection.

Anyone who has eaten contamination or poisoned food can suffer from food poisoning, however the very young, elderly, pregnant women and people that are unwell are particularly vulnerable.

Anyone who works with food or in food shops and restaurants should contact their local Environmental Health Department for advice. Staff in food businesses, health care facilities, nurseries and premises catering for special needs should be excluded from work until free of all symptoms for at least 48 hours to prevent spread of infection.

Further information can be obtained from the Food Standards Agency. A copy of Food Handlers: Fitness to Work (2009) is available from the Food Standards Agency.

What foods are associated with food poisoning?

You can get food poisoning from a variety of foods. However, certain types of food can support bacteria more easily than others - these include:

  • partially cooked or raw meat products (both red meat and poultry)
  • undercooked burgers and sausages
  • dairy products (especially unpasteurised) such as milk, cream and soft cheese
  • uncooked egg products such as eggs, mayonnaise, chocolate mousse and any product which contains uncooked egg
  • shellfish

This list is in no way exhaustive and because some foods can support bacteria more easily than others, it doesn't mean that those foods should be avoided.

What are the common causes of food poisoning?

There are five main causes of food poisoning:

  • bacteria and their toxins
  • viruses
  • chemicals and metals
  • poisonous plants
  • allergic reactions

What are the most common types of food poisoning?

There are several types of food poisoning bacteria which can cause illness in humans; these are the most common:

  • Campylobacter (food bourne infection)
  • Salmonella
  • E-Coli 0157
  • Staphylococcus Aires

The main faults which result in food poisoning outbreaks are:

  • food prepared too far in advance and stored at room temperature
  • cooling food too slowly
  • not re-heating food to high enough temperature to destroy food poisoning bacteria
  • under-cooking food
  • not thawing frozen poultry for sufficient time
  • cross-contamination from raw foods to ready-to-eat foods
  • storing hot food below 63°C
  • infected food handlers
  • eating raw foods such as eggs, milk and shellfish
  • eating cooked food that has been left out of the fridge and has been contaminated with food poisoning bacteria

How do I know I have food poisoning and not a stomach upset?

The only way you will find out if you are suffering from food poisoning is by submitting a faecal sample to your doctor. This sample will then be sent away to be tested. If the sample is positive for any food poisoning bacteria, then the results will be sent through to your Environmental Health department and your doctor. The Environmental Health department may contact you to investigate further.

What should I do if I believe I have food poisoning from eating at a food establishment in Surrey Heath?

Surrey Heath Borough Council only investigate the criminal aspect of the complaint. The Council will not seek to obtain or otherwise negotiate any compensation.

Food Poisoning and Infectious Disease

If you believe that you have food poisoning you should contact your GP as soon as possible.

Your GP can arrange for you to supply a stool sample, to be examined at a laboratory. This will confirm if your illness is the result of bacterial food poisoning. If necessary this Council can supply specimen pots for your sample.

It is almost impossible to prove a case of food poisoning without the result of a stool sample.

Certain illnesses, including bacterial food poisoning are notifiable. This means that the laboratory will notify this council of the results of the sample examined by them, confirming that someone has food poisoning. So, if you have a confirmed case of food poisoning then you will be contacted by this department.

We will also ask you to complete a questionnaire detailing a short history of what, when and where you recently ate, to assist us in trying to identify where your illness came from

Details of each case of food poisoning will also be checked against others received by us to identify any common links.

Where it appears that a particular food premises may be involved, then further investigations may be carried out.

If the food premises are located outside this borough then details will be passed to the relevant Council for their attention.