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Food Poisoning and Infectious Disease Control


We investigate cases of possible food poisoning and certain other food borne illnesses which are notifiable. When people become unwell and report to their doctor, or via hospital admissions, Public Health England are notified to carry out an investigation. We assist them in their surveillance, investigation, prevention and control of communicable disease.

When will we investigate?

We will carry out a formal investigation under the following criteria:

  • When we receive the results from stool samples (sent automatically by Public Health England) that you have submitted to your GP and the result of the illness is caused by a food poisoning organism.

  • When there is more than one party that have reported illness.

You can contact us by filling in the Request for service form, by email or by telephoning 02380 285230.

Why we investigate

The purpose of an investigation is to try to prevent the spread of illness within the community and to try and establish possible causes. Advice is also given to the patient on how to prevent the spread of disease within the home.

Many different sorts of bacteria (germs) can cause food borne illness. When food is kept warm, these bacteria can grow rapidly and reach dangerous levels within hours. The numbers of cases of food borne illness have increased dramatically over the past few years, particularly during the Summer months. Good food hygiene standards in industry and the home are vital to prevent food borne illness.

How long does is take for symptoms to occur?

The incubation period (time taken from eating the food to feeling unwell) varies with each type of organism 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 be the cause of your symptoms.

Salmonella: 12 - 72 hours, E.coli O157: 1-6 days (usually 2 days), Campylobacter: 1 - 6 days (usually 2 - 5 days), Listeria: 3 - 70 days.

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

It is also worth bearing in mind that people often become unwell due to contracting a virus such as norovirus, and the symptoms such as vomiting are often mistaken for being food poisoning. Illnesses of this type are often associated with particularly violent sickness, and the rapid onset of symptoms from beginning to feel unwell. Most people begin to feel better within 24 hours.

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

  • diarrhoea
  • stomach cramps / pains
  • vomiting
  • fever
  • nausea
  • headache
  • dizziness

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.
Updated: 17 May 2018
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