Food poisoning

You can get food poisoning after eating or drinking anything contaminated by bacteria, chemicals, viruses or parasites.

The main symptoms can include any number of the following:

  • diarrhoea (sometimes bloody)
  • stomach cramps
  • vomiting
  • fever
  • nausea
  • headache
  • dizziness

Symptoms can vary from being mild to very severe. For the most common types of infection, the symptoms may start anything between one and 10 days after the infection occurred. Illness may last only a day, or could continue for a number of weeks.

The two most common causes of food-poisoning symptoms in Britain are from:

  • campylobacter - this has an incubation period of one to 10 days.
  • viral gastro-enteritis - caused by a number of different types of virus. They're rarely food-borne and are most likely to be picked up from surfaces contaminated by an infected person.

You can find out more about food poisoning and food-borne illnesses on the NHS website.

What you should do

If you think you have food poisoning you should contact your GP practice and arrange to give a stool sample as soon as possible. If the sample contains food poisoning bacteria we'll be notified by the testing laboratory through Public Health England.

If you have a job in catering, or in close contact with young children or those who are sick, elderly or immuno-compromised, you must notify your employer and should refrain from work until you've been symptom free for 48 hours after any treatment has finished.

If you think you got food poisoning from a meal prepared by a food business, please report this to us using our online form.

What we'll do

We work with Public Health England under the direction of the NHS regional consultant in communicable disease control. We follow up and investigate confirmed cases of food poisoning to control and prevent the spread of illness and to identify the source whenever possible.

We can't investigate anonymous reports, and unsubstantiated reports.

There's a natural mistaken tendency to blame food poisoning on the last meal eaten. Therefore, before we visit a suspected business we'll look for evidence between cases not connected with each other that have the same business in common.

For isolated incidents (cases that don't appear to be part of an outbreak) we'll contact you to find out details about your illness and to confirm that you've provided a sample through your GP. We'll also ask you to complete a food history questionnaire. If you have any of the suspect food left over, put it in a clean plastic bag and freeze it so it's available if required.