The symptoms of food poisoning vary depending on the type of infection, symptoms that are common to most food poisoning infections include:
- stomach cramps
It is important to remember that it can take time for the symptoms of food poisoning to show, this is known as the incubation period (time taken from eating the contaminated food to the first symptoms). This varies with each type of organism - from within a day to and in some cases can be up to 10 - 15 days after consumption of the food. It is important to realise therefore, that the last meal you ate may not always be the cause of your symptoms.
Most people with food poisoning will recover without the need for treatment. However, occasionally, food poisoning can have more serious health effects, particularly in people vulnerable to the effects of an infection. For example, babies, young children, the elderly and those with a condition that weakens the immune system, can experience more severe symptoms.
If you suspect you have food poisoning it is recommended that you visit your doctor as soon as possible. You may be asked to submit a faecal sample for examination. Samples are useful in that they might be able to show which food-borne illness you are suffering from, or could rule out food poisoning. Viruses can also be detected.
Consult your doctor immediately if the person affected is a baby, a young child, elderly or if they have an existing illness or condition. You should also contact your doctor if symptoms are prolonged or severe (e.g. bloody diarrhoea).
What do we investigate?
Environmental Health Departments have a statutory duty to investigate certain diseases. Cases can be notified to Environmental Health in a number of ways including information from a GP, Public Health England or the Public Health England laboratory.
Different diseases will be investigated in different ways. This will usually be done by a standard questionnaire. Depending on the disease an officer may visit or phone to complete this or send the questionnaire for the infected person (or their parent/guardian if under 16 years old) to complete themselves and return to us.
The information received on the questionnaire is used to help the officer decide whether any further action is required. If a food premises is implicated an investigation may be necessary. The reason for these investigations is to try and reduce the spread of disease. So information required will include:
- occupation (some occupations have a higher risk of passing on disease e.g. a food handler)
- recent food history (this could range from a few hours to several weeks so the earlier we can ask the questions the easier it is for people to remember the answers)
- recent travel history or functions attended
- close contacts (some diseases can be spread from person to person).
Viral Infections such as 'Norovirus' (Winter Vomiting Disease) can give rise to very similar symptoms to food poisoning, but in the majority of cases these are not linked to food, but by hand to mouth contamination and often only last between 2 - 3 days. There are no long term effects that result from being infected.
Below is a list of some of the diseases we would investigate, with links to information on the Public Health England website where available:
- dysentery (shigella)
- E. coli
- suspected food poisoning - gastrointestinal disease
- typhoid/paratyphoid (enteric fever).
You must ensure that hands are thoroughly washed to ensure the infection is not spread. View more information on hand washing advice.
If you think that your illness is caused by food prepared outside the home, you can report the incident to the Public Protection team.
Last updated: 12.00pm on Wednesday 12 December 2018