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Food poisoning & infectious diseases

Food poisoning is usually caused by eating food contaminated by bacteria, or the toxins which bacteria produce. There are many different bacteria that cause food poisoning, each one causing symptoms that differ in nature and severity.

The most common symptoms are diarrhoea and vomiting (although you may only experience one of these).

The length of time it can take between eating contaminated food and the development of symptoms can vary, but typically it is 24 to 72 hours. This is called the incubation period.

The main causes of food poisoning are:

  • preparing food too far in advance
  • not cooking food properly
  • not defrosting food correctly
  • storing food incorrectly so that bacteria can grow
  • cross contamination of foods after cooking
  • infection from people handling foods due to poor hygiene

Please be aware that the last meal you ate may not be the cause of your symptoms

People suffer from diarrhoea and/or vomiting for a number of different reasons. Viral gastroenteritis is the name given to diarrhoea and vomiting caused by contact with virus particles, which may be present in food, in the environment, and in other people with the same symptoms. The incubation period for viral gastroenteritis is shorter, typically 24 hours or less.

How do we investigate cases of suspected food poisoning?

Although the symptoms that you are suffering may indicate that you are suffering from food poisoning, there is only one way to be sure. This is to submit a faecal (stool) sample. We will ask you to provide a sample even if you have visited your GP or the hospital, and they did not ask for a sample.

Please note that if you are not willing (or unable) to submit a sample we will not be able to take any further action, as we will have no evidence to proceed further. We will, however, record the details you give us in case we notice any patterns in these reports.

What happens next?

If no food poisoning bacteria are found in your sample, your symptoms will be associated with another source, for example a virus or a different medical condition.

If the results show that you have food poisoning, we will take a food history from you so that we have a full record of all the food that you ate up to 10 days before you became ill. This will include food prepared and eaten within the home as well as food consumed at restaurants, takeaways etc.

If your sample results and food history show that your illness could be linked to a food premises in York, we will investigate this further. If you may have contracted your illness from premises outside of the City of York area, we will liaise with the relevant local authority on your behalf.

IMPORTANT INFORMATION FOR PEOPLE WHO WORK WITH FOOD, THE ELDERLY, YOUNG CHILDREN, OR PEOPLE THAT ARE UNWELL

If your occupation involves handling food for other people, working with the elderly, young children (5 years old or younger) or people that are unwell, you must take the following action;
• Notify your employer of your illness immediately and follow any guidance they issue.
• Stay away from work until your symptoms have stopped for at least 48 hours (or longer, if your employer requires).
• Inform your employer before you return to work.
• Maintain high standards of personal hygiene once back at work as you could pass on the infection for several weeks.

You should follow this advice even if you are not sure if your symptoms are due to food poisoning, or another reason. This will help control the spread of further illness.

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