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Last updated: 24.07.17

Food poisoning: the facts and the symptoms

What is Food Poisoning and why is such an issue?

Food poisoning is an illness causes by consuming food which has been contaminated by bacteria, and although food poisoning is rarely life-threatening, in some cases it can lead to dangerous illnesses.

Customers who contract food poisoning after eating at a specific restaurant or cafe almost certainly won’t come back again as it is a key indicator of bad food hygiene, tarnishing the reputation of the establishment. Therefore, it is crucial that any staff members on site who handle the food and the business owners recognise the facts and symptoms around food poisoning.

There are many instances where people mistake food poisoning symptoms for a common bug or unrelated illness, so it’s important to be aware of the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) guidance.

What are the symptoms of food poisoning?

  • Feeling sick (nausea)
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea (sometimes containing blood or mucus)
  • Stomach cramps and tummy pain
  • Lack of energy and weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • High temperature (fever)
  • Aching

On average, food poisoning symptoms will develop within a week of eating the contaminated food. However, in some cases it can take anywhere from a few hours to several week or even months to show up depending on the severity and type of contamination.

How long does food poisoning last?

Unless symptoms become severe, the majority of people recover from food poisoning at home within one or two days without any specific treatment. Regardless of how bad the symptoms are, the FSA recommends that you drink plenty of liquid to prevent any chance dehydration, especially in the cases of the elderly or very young. If symptoms continue longer than two days, then it’s recommended that you contact your local GP for further guidance.

The facts

In the summer, food poisoning can be attributed to bugs such as Campylobacter, Salmonella, Listeria and some E. coli. Virtual College supported the FSA research on seasonal cases of food poisoning, brought on by summertime activities like barbecues, with a ‘Safe Summer Food’ campaign that aimed to raise awareness around food hygiene and the different bugs which see a rise around summer. Here we take a look at the facts behind these types of food poisoning.

What is Campylobacter?

Campylobacter is the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK according to the FSA, and can cause symptoms such as severe abdominal pain, diarrhoea, headache and fever.

While it won’t be visible, food handlers must ensure poultry, meat, dairy products, unpasteurised milk and shellfish are safe to consume by sticking to food safety guidelines, as this is where Campylobacter is usually found. It can be spread by cross-contamination, contaminated water or infected animals and their food. This type of food poisoning can cause permanent disability.

What is Salmonella?

Salmonella is one of the more well-known types of food bug and is found in raw meat, undercooked poultry, eggs and unpasteurised milk.

Food handlers must be aware that this is usually spread by inadequate cooking as well as cross-contamination, highlighting just how important it is to keep cooking and kitchen areas as clean and safe as possible. Salmonella can make you ill for up to three weeks with symptoms such as diarrhoea, fever, vomiting and stomach pains.

What is E. coli?

E. coli can thrive in raw and undercooked meats in a similar way to Salmonella. It can also spread through other contaminated foods like vegetables and salads, water or unpasteurised milk. Those working with food must also ensure they wash their hands regularly as E. coli can be passed on from person to person.

The FSA says that 50 per cent of those suffering from this type of food poisoning have bloody diarrhoea. Other symptoms include stomach cramps and vomiting, all of which can last for up to two weeks. When it comes to children with the illness, especially those under the age of four, it can cause haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS), which is a serious condition affecting the kidneys.

What is Listeria?

Listeria is one of the less common types of food-related illnesses, but should a person catch the illness they have more chance of being hospitalised. The risk of listeriosis increases for those aged over 65 years, very young children and newborn babies. For unborn babies and pregnant women Listeria is especially dangerous, which means they should take care with soft cheese, smoked fish, meat pates and pre-packed sandwiches.

The Definitive Guide to Food Safety

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