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What is food poisoning?

Food poisoning is a gastrointestinal disorder caused by
the consumption of food or drink of a naturally toxic nature or that which is contaminated with toxic chemicals, or harmful bacteria.

Is food poisoning common in the UK?

Did you know that in the UK on average 2 million people a year suffer from an illness such as vomiting/ diarrhoea due to food poisoning. However most people do not get help from their local GP or seek advice.

So which bacteria causes food poisoning?

A bacteria called Campylobacter is the most commonly found (about 40,000 cases annually).These are found
in un pasteurised milk or raw poultry.

Salmonella is the next most commonly found group of bacteria (about 30,000 per annum). They can be found in
raw meat, poultry and some times eggs. For the rest of bacteria's which cause food poisoning ,
Staphylococcus Aureus, Clostridium Perfringens and Bacillus Cereus produce poisons in food which may result in vomiting. Clostridium Perfringens is mainly associated with meat and Bacillus Cereus is commonly linked with rice.

Some variants of normal intestinal bacteria are a cause of food poisoning. A particularly severe type is caused
by E. Coli 0157. It is present in some cattle and may contaminate raw meat. It can cause bloody diarrhoea and
kidney failure, particularly in the elderly, but is only rarely a cause of food poisoning.

What are the symptoms of food poisoning?

Vomiting / diarrhoea are classified as the common symptoms however fever, abdominal pain or blood in the stools may occur.
It is a short lived illness but can be very serious and in some cases life threatening. The recovery rate from these types of illness vary from a couple hours to weeks. This is all dependent on the fitness of the person and the type of infection.

How quickly does it happen?

As quick as a few hours of the contaminated food being eaten, up to days before the effects of food poisoning can take place.
Staphylococcus Aureus or   Bacillus Cereus will effect you between 2-12 hours after the meal, whilst Salmonella or
Clostridium Perfringens
develop between 12-24 hours after consumption. Campylobacters can take up to a week or
more after the infected food has been eaten.

What can be done to avoid food poisoning?

Foods which are linked with food poisoning don't have to be avoided since Salmonella, Campylobacter
and E.Coli 0157 are killed in foods when adequately cooked. But it is Important points to remember the following:

  • Make sure all food stored in the refrigerators are covered and adequately chilled (ideally around 5° centigrade).Take extra care when transporting food back from the supermarket. Keep frozen and chilled food out of direct sunlight in your car.

  • Always wash your hands after visiting the lavatory.

  • Take care to ensure thorough cooking and re-heating of all meat, especially poultry. Make sure that deep frozen food is thawed before cooking. Be aware of foods containing uncooked eggs such as mayonnaise and certain puddings.

  • Wash your hands after handling raw meat or eggs before handling other foods.

  • Avoid eating raw eggs or uncooked foods made from them.

  • Vulnerable people e.g. the elderly, the sick, babies and pregnant women should eat eggs only which have been cooked until they are hard (both yoke and white).

  • Always wash salads thoroughly before eating even pre - packed and ready to eat ones.

  • Never drink any type of unpasteurised milk.


Most food borne infections resolve without medical attention. Depending on the type of bacterial infection antibiotics may be prescribed in some cases. Before doing this, the doctor will usually require a stool specimen for analysis, in order to discover which particular bacterium is responsible.

Dehydration caused by diarrhoea and vomiting should be treated immediately with oral rehydration solutions available over the counter at chemists. If these preparations are not available, you can make your own using a generous pinch of salt (1.5gram) and a teaspoon of sugar stirred into a glass of fruit juice or water (250ml).

This is particularly important for infants and young children. If the illness lasts more than a few days or there is blood in the stools, medical advice should be sought urgently.

The need for research

Much is known about the organisms that cause food poisoning. Building on this knowledge, doctors and scientists are currently researching ways to diagnose infections more rapidly and to develop vaccines against them. Greater understanding of the mechanisms involved in the transmission of food borne infectious disease is very important in improving standards of public health.


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