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Food poisoning

Information and frequently asked questions about food poisoning and E. Coli. Click on a heading below to see more details.

Food poisoning FAQs

What is food poisoning?

Food poisoning is an illness which occurs after eating or drinking anything infected by harmful micro-organisms such as bacteria, parasites, viruses, or from chemicals. Unfortunately, you can't tell as you’re eating or drinking whether food or drink is contaminated with these harmful micro-organisms.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms suffered will depend on the type of micro-organism ingested. The most common symptoms include diarrhoea, sickness, nausea, stomach cramps and fever. The length of illness will depend on the micro-organism ingested. It may be just one day or continue for several weeks.

The most common food poisoning cases reported to Rushcliffe Borough Council are Campylobacter species and Salmonella species.

I think I've suffered from food poisoning. What do I do?

To find out whether you have suffered food poisoning a faecal sample must be taken while you have symptoms so the public health microbiologist can analyse which micro-organism is causing your illness.

Faecal sample pots can be obtained from your doctor or from contacting us (link to contact us box).

Only a teaspoonful of faeces is required. Use the spoon provided in the faecal pot to get your sample. Leave the spoon in the container and screw the top of the pot down tightly.

Remember to fill in personal details on the faecal pot, for example, your name, date of birth, date and time the sample was taken.

Clinical specimens must not be sent through the post but should be delivered to either:

Public Health Lab.
Queen's Medical Centre
Pathology Reception
City Hospital

Or to your nearest health centre.

Store your faecal sample in a cool place overnight until it is delivered.

What questions will be asked by the Protection and Safety Team?

  • What symptoms have you had and when did they start?
  • What foods have you eaten within the past 72 hours?
  • Have any members of the family suffered any similar symptoms?
  • Where have you eaten within the past 72 hours?
  • Have any pets or animals that you've been in contact with been poorly?
  • Have you visited any farms?
  • Have you been in contact with potentially contaminated water e.g. rivers, swimming pools etc?
  • Are you a food handler, or do you work with the young, elderly or people who are immuno- suppressed?
  • If you are ringing about your child, we will need to know how old the child is and whether he/ she attends a nursery school/ crèche, playgroup or a similar place?
  • Disinfect toilet seats, flush handles, door handles and taps daily with a disinfectant
  • Wash soiled clothing / bedding on their own, in a hot cycle
  • Ensure you regularly wash your hands with soap and running hot water and dry thoroughly, especially before preparing food and after going to the toilet
  • Avoid preparing food for other people

I think I've suffered from food poisoning. How do I prevent my family being poorly?

Do I go to work or send my child to school?

If your work involves handling food, nursing or working with the young, sick or elderly you must promptly inform your employer and stay away from work. Seek medical advice if symptoms persist.

Food handlers should only return to work when:

  • You have not vomited for 48 hours once any treatment has ceased
  • Bowel habits have returned to normal for 48 hours either spontaneously or following cessation of treatment with anti-diarrhoeal drugs.
  • Good hygiene practice, particularly hand washing, is observed in all circumstances.

If children are ill should they stay off school?

Yes, all children should stay off school until they are free from diarrhoea and vomiting.

If your child is under five and attends nursery, playgroups or similar groups, they may need a longer period of absence.  

If your child has been diagnosed as suffering from a food poisoning infection contact us for advice on when your child should return to school.

What can I do in my home to prevent being ill?

  • Store raw meat at the bottom of your refrigerator to ensure blood from raw meat cannot drip onto other foods in the refrigerator. Keep all foods covered.
  • Don't drink bottled milk if it has been pecked by birds, as birds carry harmful micro-organisms that could get into the milk.
  • Don't eat raw eggs or uncooked foods made from them e.g. homemade ice cream and mousses. Do not drink unpasteurised milk.
  • Wash hands carefully after handling eggs as harmful micro-organisms can be carried on their shell.
  • Keep pets and pet food away from food, surfaces and utensils.
  • Store eggs in the fridge and eat them within their best before date.
  • Keep the fridge operating below 8°C, ideally between 1 and 5°C.
  • Wash your hands under running warm water and with soap after handling raw foods and after going to the toilet, changing nappies, blowing your nose, and touching your hair, pets and waste. Ensure your hands are dried afterwards.
  • Follow use by dates on packaged foods and eat left-overs within two days.
  • Disinfect work surfaces regularly, especially after preparing raw food and before preparing other foods which are ready to eat.
  • Defrost food thoroughly in covered containers in the refrigerator.
  • Cook food thoroughly and check that meat juices, especially poultry, are running clear. Follow manufacturer's instructions on how to safely microwave your food. Never reheat food more than once.
  • Don't allow food to stand at room temperature for a long period. Quickly cool foods and put them in the refrigerator or keep them hot in the oven. Ideally eat your food as soon as it is cooked or prepared. Harmful micro-organisms cannot grow quickly if foods are stored at the correct temperatures.
  • Don't store food in open cans as the food may react with the metal and allow the metal to migrate into the food.

E. coli 0157

What is E. coli 0157?

E. coli O157 are bacteria which can cause a range of illnesses from mild diarrhoea through to a very severe inflammation of the gut.

What are the symptoms of E. coli 0157?

After swallowing the bacteria it may take between one and six days before you become ill. In some people it may be as long as 14 days before symptoms develop.

People infected by the E. coli 0157 bacteria can develop a range of symptoms:

  • Diarrhoea – about 50% of people also have blood in their stools
  • Stomach cramps
  • Fever

Some infected people may have mild diarrhoea or no symptoms at all. A very small number of patients may develop kidney problems.

Where does the E. coli 0157 infection come from?

E. coli 0157 are found in the gut of some cattle and other farm animals and can contaminate meat at the time of slaughtering.

How do I catch E. coli 0157?

The infection is caused by eating food containing the bacteria particularly beef products, such as undercooked beefburgers or beef mince, unpasteurised milk and cheese and unwashed vegetables. Infection may also follow contact with infected animals, particularly at farms and animal sanctuaries. The bacteria can spread from person to person through inadequate handwashing after using the toilet and/or before food-handling, particularly in households, nurseries and infant schools.

How will I know if I have E. coli 0157?

You should always tell your doctor if you, or a member of your family have diarrhoea which lasts for more than 24 hours especially if blood is present.  Your doctor may ask you to provide a stool sample. This will be tested in a laboratory. The result will take a few days.

How can E. coli 0157 be prevented?

It is important to handle all food safely:

  • cooked and uncooked meats separate,
  • cooking all poultry and minced beef products thoroughly.
  • washing all salads and vegetables to be eaten raw.
  • avoid drinking unpasteurised milk and eating unpasteurised dairy products.

Personal hygiene is also very important:

  • thorough hand washing and drying after using the toilet, handling raw meat, before meals and after contact with animals.
  • supervision of hand washing for children on farm visits.

How long should I stay off work / school if I have E. coli 0157?

  • Most adults and children over five years who have good standards of personal hygiene can go back to work/school 48 hours after the first normal stool.
  • People who work with food must tell their employer of their illness, and must stay off work until 2 further stool tests at least 48 hours apart show that the bacteria have cleared. You must tell your employer about your illness.
  • People working with vulnerable groups e.g. the young, elderly or those in poor health, must tell their employer about the illness and must stay off work until until 2 further stool tests at least 48 hours apart show that the bacteria have cleared
  • Likewise, children under 5 should stay away from nurseries, playgroups, etc until shown to be clear of the bacteria.

Who cares if I have E. coli 0157?

Your doctor and your local Rushcliffe Borough Council Environmental Health Officer care, you can contact them on 0115 914 8322.

You should contact your doctor if you are suffering with diarrhoea and you have blood in your stools. They will be able to advise on the necessary treatment required.

You will be contacted by your local Environmental Health Officer (EHO). They will ask a short series of questions to attempt to find out where you might have picked up the illness. The EHO will advise you about personal hygiene and the need to stay off work etc. They will probably also arrange for your family or other close contacts to have stool samples tested in the laboratory, to check whether they are carrying the bacteria.

Useful documents

Ecoli 0157 Fact sheet
Ecoli 0157 Guidance
Ecoli 0157 Common questions and answers