Food poisoning

You can get food poisoning after eating or drinking anything that contains 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.

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. You should 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 any of the following jobs:

  • catering
  • close contact with young children
  • close contact with those who are sick, elderly or have a weak immune system

You must notify your employer. You should also 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 contact us online.

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. This is to control and prevent the spread of illness and to find the source whenever possible.

We can't look into anonymous reports or those that don't have any evidence.

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. We'll look at cases not connected with each other that have the same business in common.

For cases that don't appear to be part of an outbreak, we'll contact you to find out about your illness. We'll also 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 leftover, put it in a clean plastic bag and freeze it. This is so it's available if required.