Our Food Team investigates notifications of infectious diseases such as food poisoning received from GPs, the public, businesses and other local authorities to attempt to establish the likely source of the food poisoning or food related illness, contain the spread of the problem and prevent recurrence.
What causes food poisoning?
Food poisoning can be caused by food or drink that is contaminated with bacteria, viruses, chemicals or toxins. When food is kept warm, bacteria can grow rapidly and reach dangerous levels within hours. Good food hygiene standards in industry and the home are vital to prevent food borne illness.
What should I do if I think I have food poisoning?
If you think you have food poisoning you should consult your GP and explain your symptoms. To confirm your illness he/she may ask you to submit a stool/vomit samples. Consult your doctor immediately if the person affected is a baby, elderly or has an existing illness or condition or if symptoms are prolonged or severe (bloody diarrhoea).
Once we receive a food poisoning notification, we’ll contact the person with the symptoms and ask them the following questions:
- what and where they’ve eaten before their illness
- details of the symptoms
- whether they’ve been on holiday abroad
- whether or not their GP has taken a faecal sample, and
- whether anybody else they ate with also experienced any symptoms. We may request that person provides a faecal sample if they haven’t already done so.
In the course of our investigation we try to establish the cause of the food poisoning, inspect food premises where necessary, provide advice on precautions which should be taken, especially to people in groups where there is a high risk of passing on the infection - this includes food handlers, young children and carers of very young, elderly or ill people. Even when the symptoms have cleared, you may still carry and excrete the bacteria for several weeks. Close contacts may also carry and excrete the bacteria without any symptoms.
With some types of food poisoning, people in high risk groups who are carrying the bacteria, must not return to work until they have been cleared as fit to do so.
The purpose of this investigation is to try to prevent the spread of illness within the community and to try to establish possible causes. Advice is also given to the patient on how to prevent the spread of disease within the home.
If a person with symptoms is a food handler or health care or nursery worker who has direct contact or contact through serving food, with highly susceptible patients or people in whom an intestinal infection would have serious consequences, they can’t return to work until they are symptom-free for 48 hours. They must also inform their employer of their symptoms. Further information is available from the Food Standards Agency Website
Parents or guardians of children aged under five years or children or adults unable to implement good standards of personal hygiene, are advised to keep them away from school or other establishments until they’ve also been symptom-free for 48 hours.
Often people assume the last thing they ate caused their illness but food poisoning bacteria may take up to 3 days before any symptoms are experienced.
Infectious disease caused by viruses are also a common source of human illness spread through person to person contact with infected people, airborne transmission and/or contact with infected materials.
Who is at risk from food poisoning?
Anyone can contract food poisoning, however, babies, young children and the elderly can very quickly become very ill when infected and are more at risk. Pregnant women, people who already have a pre-existing illness, and anyone whose immune system is weakened can also be seriously affected by food borne illness.
What are the main symptoms of food poisoning?
The symptoms of food poisoning generally include some or all of the following:
- stomach cramps
In extreme circumstances food poisoning can result in death, usually due to health complications or infections, particularly in vulnerable people.
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 using the toilet, attending to a sick person and handling soiled bedding etc. and before handling food.
- Avoid preparing food for other people.
- Notify your employer if you work with children or the elderly.
- Don’t handle or prepare food as part of your job under any circumstances.
- Don’t return to work until 48 hours after the symptoms have ceased.
- Don’t use the same towel or face cloth as someone who is suffering with food borne illness.
- Clear up soiling accidents straight away, 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.
- Keep dirty laundry away from food and food surface
Food poisoning outbreaks
If a number of people ate at the same venue and have similar symptoms, this may be due to a food poisoning outbreak. Our investigation into the outbreak will involve:
interviewing people who are ill
interviewing others who ate at the venue but didn’t have symptoms
inspecting the implicated venue
liaising with the Public Health Agency
For further advice or information you can contact a member of the Food Team at your local Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council office on the details below: