Food poisoning and infectious diseases

If you think you may have food poisoning, you will need to get this confirmed through your GP before we are able to investigate. You should visit your GP as soon as possible, and make a note of all the food you have eaten in the two weeks before becoming unwell. We will need this information if your test result is positive for food poisoning.

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

What we will need from you

In order to investigate food poisoning we will:

  • ask you to provide a faecal (stool) sample for testing via your GP, even if you have already visited your GP or hospital and they did not ask for a sample. This is the only way we can be certain you have food poisoning
  • ask you about the food you have eaten, both prepared in the home and food consumed at restaurants, takeaways, etc.
  • ask you about your work and advise you if you work with food or vulnerable people

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 your sample results show that you have food poisoning and your food history shows 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

If you work with food or vulnerable people

It is important for people who work with food, elderly people or young children, or people that are unwell to take the following action(even if you are not sure whether your symptoms are due to food poisoning, or another reason)

  • 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

Causes of food poisoning

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 which allows bacteria to grow
  • cross contamination of foods after cooking
  • infection from people handling foods due to poor hygiene

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.

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