Food poisoning is an illness caused by eating contaminated food. It is not usually serious and most people get better within a few days without treatment.

How food can be contaminated

Food can become contaminated at any stage during its production, processing or cooking.

For example, it can become contaminated by:

  • not cooking food thoroughly (particularly meat)
  • not correctly storing food that needs to be chilled at below 5C
  • keeping cooked food unrefrigerated for a long period
  • eating food that has been touched by someone who is ill or has been in contact with someone with diarrhoea and vomiting.
  • eating food that has passed its 'use by' date
  • cross-contamination (where harmful bacteria are spread between food, surfaces, and equipment)
  • Cross-contamination can occur, for example, if you prepare raw chicken on a chopping board and do not wash the board before preparing food that won't be cooked (such as salad)


In most cases of food poisoning, the food is contaminated by bacteria, such as salmonella or Escherichia coli (E. coli), or a virus, such as the norovirus.

The symptoms of food poisoning usually begin within one to two days of eating contaminated food. Although the symptoms may begin at any point between a few hours and several weeks later.

The main symptoms include:

  • feeling sick (nausea)
  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea, which may contain blood or mucus
  • stomach cramps and abdominal (tummy) pain
  • a lack of energy and weakness
  • loss of appetite
  • a high temperature (fever)
  • aching muscles
  • chills

In most cases, these symptoms will pass in a few days and you will make a full recovery.


Food poisoning can usually be treated at home without seeking medical advice. Most people will feel better within a few days. It is important to avoid dehydration by drinking plenty of water, even if you can only sip it. You will need to replace any fluids lost through vomiting and diarrhoea.

You should also:

  • rest as much as possible
  • eat when you feel up to it – sticking to small, light, and non-fatty meals at first (bland foods such as toast, crackers, rice, and bananas are good choices)
  • avoid alcohol, caffeine, fizzy drinks and spicy and fatty foods because they may make you feel worse.

When do you get in touch with Sandsclinic?

Please get in touch with Sands if:

  • your symptoms are severe – for example, if you are unable to keep down any fluids because you are vomiting repeatedly (vomiting lasts more than two days for adults, 24 hours for children under two, or 12 hours for children one year or younger)
  • your symptoms do not begin to improve after a few days - children with diarrhoea who have defecated (pooed) more than five times in the previous 24 hours, adults with diarrhoea lasting more than 10 days
  • there is any blood in the diarrhoea
  • you have symptoms of severe dehydration 
  • you're pregnant
  • you're over 60
  • your baby or young child has suspected food poisoning - usually other people who have eaten the same food will experience similar symptoms.
  • you have a long-term underlying condition, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), heart valve disease, diabetes or kidney disease
  • you have a weak immune system – for example, because of medication, cancer treatment or HIV
  • We could investigate by getting a stool sample sent off and treating depending on the results.
  • Alternatively, it could be something else causing your symptoms which we would need further management.