Eating pasta

Infectious Diseases including Food Poisoning

Doctors who suspect a patient may have food poisoning have a duty to report the matter to the Health Protection Agency. Patients are interviewed by officers from the Food Safety Team in an attempt to discover where the illness may have come from (and to try to prevent the spread of the illness wherever it is necessary).

Members of the public who feel they have been made ill by eating food can also contact the Food Safety Team for help and advice, using the contact details below.

Food doesn't need to smell or look 'off' to be contaminated with food poisoning bacteria.

The main causes of food poisoning and food borne illness are:

  • preparing foods too far in advance

  • not cooking foods properly

  • not defrosting foods correctly

  • storing foods incorrectly (i.e. too warm) so that bacteria can grow quickly

  • cross contamination of foods after cooking

  • infection from people handling foods due to poor hygiene

Who is at Risk?

We all are, but babies, young children and the elderly can very quickly become very ill when infected. Pregnant women, people who already have a pre-existing illness, and anyone whose immune system is weakened can also be seriously affected by food borne illness.

What do the officers do?

  • Infectious disease control and advice.

  • Investigate cases and suspected cases of notifiable disease.

  • Exclude from work infected food handlers where appropriate.

  • Investigate contacts of infectious cases

  • Arrange for specimens and samples to be taken to assist in diagnosis treatment and return to work.

  • Investigate possible sources of infection, investigate and take appropriate action according to protocols relating to each specific disease.

  • Work with other agencies in accordance with the Outbreak control plan drawn up with the Consultant in Communicable Disease Control of the Health Protection Agency.


 Follow the Top Ten Tips to try and reduce food and water borne illness:

  • Wash hands thoroughly before handling food and always after handling raw meat, going to the toilet, blowing your nose or handling animals (including pets)

  • Keep food preparation surfaces and utensils clean and disinfected (e.g. anti-bacterial).

  • Prepare and store raw meat and 'ready-to-eat' food separately. Always keep raw and defrosting meat at the base of the refrigerator, below everything else.

  • Ensure that your refrigerator and freezer are operating properly, invest in a suitable thermometer. The refrigerator should operate at 5 degrees C or lower and the freezer at -18 degrees C or lower.

  • Check the 'Use by' dates on food and ensure that you use the food before the date expires.

  • Always store eggs in the refrigerator and do not eat food containing uncooked eggs.

  • Keep pets away from food and food preparation surfaces.

  • Defrost food, particularly meat and poultry thoroughly before cooking.

  • Cook food thoroughly. Follow the manufacturers' guidelines and ensure that food is piping hot throughout before consumption.

  • Cool food immediately after cooking and never allow it to be at room temperature for more than 4 hours. Always store left over food in the refrigerator as soon as it has cooled to room temperature

What to do if you have symptoms of food borne illness

Food borne illness can spread quickly, partly because everyone in the family could have eaten the same food and partly because the bacteria may be picked up by close family contact (e.g. nursing the sick). Viruses can also cause illness, similar to food poisoning and they also spread very quickly. If you suspect you are suffering food poisoning it is recommended that you visit your doctor as soon as possible, who might ask you to submit a 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 a food-poising organism. Viruses can also be detected. Consult your doctor immediately if the person affected is a baby, elderly or has an existing illness or condition or if symptoms are prolonged or severe (e.g. bloody diarrhoea).

If you or a member of your family are suffering from the symptoms of food poisoning, it is recommended that you follow the advice below to try and prevent the spread of the illness:

  • Wash your hands after contact with the sick person, and before handling food.

  • Do not use the same towel or face cloth as someone who is suffering with food borne illness.

  • Clear up soiling accidents straightaway, wash with hot soapy water and disinfect with a disinfectant or bleach.

  • Disinfect door and toilet handles, taps and the toilet seat after use and disinfect the toilet bowl frequently.

  • Drink plenty of fluids while you are ill to prevent dehydration.

What are the Main Symptoms of Food-Borne Illness / Food Poisoning?

  • Diarrhoea

  • Stomach cramps

  • Vomiting

  • Fever

  • Nausea

  • Headache

  • Dizziness

There are many types of food and water borne illness caused by different bacteria. For more information visit the Health Protection Agency website

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