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Food poisoning 

Introduction 

Barbecue food safety

Learn about how to avoid food poisoning, handle raw meat and cook meat properly when you use a barbecue.

Food poisoning is an illness caused by eating contaminated food. Most people will get better without the need for treatment. 

In most cases, the food that causes the illness has been contaminated by bacteria, such as salmonella, or a virus, such as the norovirus.

The symptoms of food poisoning usually begin one to three days after eating contaminated food. They include:

  • feeling sick
  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea
  • stomach cramps

Foods that are particularly vulnerable to contamination if they are not handled, stored or cooked properly include:

  • raw meat and poultry
  • 'ready to eat' foods such as cooked sliced meats, pate, soft cheeses and pre-packed sandwiches
  • dairy products, such as eggs and milk

How common is food poisoning?

During 2010, there were almost 84,560 cases of food poisoning in England and Wales. However, the actual figure may be considerably higher than this because many people with mild symptoms do not report them.

Outlook

Most people with food poisoning will get better without the need for treatment. In the meantime, you can relieve the symptoms of food poisoning by:

  • drinking plenty of fluids
  • eating easily digested food, such as toast, until you feel better
  • resting

Read more about treating food poisoning.

Occasionally, food poisoning can have more serious effects on a person’s health, particularly if they are vulnerable to the effects of an infection. For example, being older than 65 or having a condition that weakens the immune system, such as HIV or cancer, can increase a person’s chances of getting an illness and developing more serious symptoms.

Signs that you may have a more serious case of food poisoning that requires medical attention include:

  • vomiting that lasts for more than two days
  • not being able to keep liquids down for more than a day
  • diarrhoea that lasts for more than three days or is bloody
  • fever 

Read about the symptoms of food poisoning for more information on when to seek medical advice.

  • show glossary terms
Bacteria
Bacteria are tiny, single-celled organisms that live in the body. Some can cause illness and disease and some others are good for you.

Last reviewed: 12/07/2011

Next review due: 12/07/2013

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