Certain infectious diseases are notifiable to Public Health England (PHE) and these are investigated by the consultant in Communicable Disease Control (CDC) or by us. We investigate food poisoning and certain other food borne illnesses which are notifiable. The purpose of this investigation is to try to prevent the spread of illness within the community and to try and establish possible causes. Advice is also given to the patient on how to prevent the spread of disease within the home.
Many different sorts of bacteria (germs) can cause food borne illness. When food is kept warm, these bacteria can grow rapidly and reach dangerous levels within hours. The numbers of cases of food borne illness have increased dramatically over the past few years, particularly during the summer months. Good food hygiene standards in industry and the home are vital to prevent food borne illness.
The incubation period (time taken from eating the food to feeling unwell) varies with each type of organism and in some cases can be up to 10-15 days after consumption of the food. It is important to realise therefore, that the last meal you ate may not be the cause of your symptoms.
The main causes of food poisoning and food borne illness are:
We all are, but babies, young children and the elderly can very quickly become very ill when infected. 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.
Food borne illness can spread quickly, partly because everyone in the family could have eaten the same food and partly because the bacteria may be picked up by close family contact (e.g. nursing the sick). Viruses can also cause illness, similar to food poisoning and they also spread very quickly.
If you suspect you are suffering food poisoning it is recommended that you visit your doctor as soon as possible, who might ask you to submit a sample for examination.
Samples are useful in that they might be able to show which food-borne illness you are suffering from, or could rule out a food-poising organism. Viruses can also be detected. 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 (e.g. bloody diarrhoea).
If you or a member of your family are suffering from the symptoms of food poisoning, it is recommended that you follow the advice below to try and prevent the spread of the illness: