Shropshire Council

General advice on food poisoning

Gastroenteritis is the common term used when suffering from diarrhoea, stomach cramps and/or vomiting. It can be caused by viruses or food poisoning bacteria and/or their toxins. Food poisoning caused by common pathogenic food poisoning bacteria can only be confirmed by providing a faecal sample.

Food poisoning bacteria have different incubation times (the time from eating the food to becoming ill) and are often associated with certain food types. It's important to realise therefore, that the last meal you ate may not be the cause of your symptoms. When investigating cases of suspected food poisoning the investigating officer will ask for details of symptoms, times and dates of foods eaten and other possible links. If you haven’t provided a faecal sample you'll be asked to do so via your GP to assist the investigation.

The department receives all notifications of positive faecal samples for food poisoning bacteria directly from the laboratory. An investigation may be undertaken to prevent the spread of disease and identify the source. The depth of the investigation is dictated by the type of organism and number of individuals affected. The purpose of this investigation is to try to prevent the spread of illness within the community, and to try to establish possible causes. Take a look at the top ten tips on this page for the prevention of either getting the illness or spreading it within the home. For further advice visit NHS Choices or Health Protection Information from Gov.UK

Who's 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 foodborne illness. If you are in this group, or if symptoms are prolonged or severe (eg bloody diarrhoea) consult your doctor immediately.

Food handlers

If you're a food handler you mustn't return to work until you have not had symptoms for 48 hours. If you work in a setting where there are vulnerable people, eg a nursing home, nursery etc, but don’t handle food, contact the department for further advice. Always tell your manager if you've been ill.

Common types of foodborne illness

Prevention

Follow these tips to try to reduce foodborne illness:

  1. Wash hands thoroughly before handling food and always after handling raw meat, going to the toilet, blowing your nose or handling animals (including pets).
  2. Keep food preparation surfaces and utensils clean and disinfected (eg anti-bacterial).
  3. 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.
  4. Ensure that your refrigerator and freezer are operating properly; invest in a suitable thermometer. The refrigerator should operate at 5°C or lower, and the freezer at -18°C or lower.
  5. Check the 'use by' dates on food, and ensure that you use the food before the date expires.
  6. Always store eggs in the refrigerator, and don't eat food containing uncooked eggs.
  7. Keep pets away from food and food preparation surfaces.
  8. Defrost food, particularly meat and poultry, thoroughly before cooking.
  9. Cook food thoroughly. Follow the manufacturers' guidelines and ensure that food is piping hot throughout before consumption.
  10. Cool food immediately after cooking, and never allow it to be at room temperature for more than four hours. Always store left-over food in the refrigerator as soon as it has cooled to room temperature.

Hygiene advice

If you or a member of your family are suffering from the symptoms of food poisoning, it's 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
  • Don't use the same towel or face cloth as someone who is suffering with foodborne 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