What is food poisoning?

Food poisoning is a type of gastroenteritis.

Food poisoning happens when germs grow in foods like meat, chicken, seafood, eggs or cream that has gone off. The germs grow because the food is undercooked, poorly reheated or not refrigerated properly. Germs can also grow when the food is prepared with dirty hands or dirty equipment.

The bacteria that cause food poisoning include Campylobacter, Staphylococcus, Salmonella and Escherichia coli. Some viruses, parasites and toxins can also cause food poisoning.

Symptoms of food poisoning

Symptoms might include:

Food poisoning can happen within hours to a few days after eating bad food. It often takes 24-48 hours for the symptoms of food poisoning to settle down.

Symptoms of foods poisoning can be more severe in babies than in older children and teenagers.

If your child has the symptoms of food poisoning, you should watch your child for signs of dehydration.

Does your child need to see a doctor about food poisoning?

See your GP if your child:

  • has diarrhoea that goes on for more than a few days
  • has bloody diarrhoea.

Take your child to a hospital emergency department straight away if:

  • your child has severe stomach pain and vomiting and can’t keep any fluid down
  • your child isn’t drinking and has signs of dehydration, including little or no wee, weight loss, tiredness and extreme thirst
  • your child has symptoms of food poisoning and is less than one year old
  • you’re worried about your child being extremely unwell.

Treatment for food poisoning

Most cases of food poisoning are mild, and your child won’t need any specific treatment.

Make sure your child drinks enough fluids. Little sips of oral rehydration fluid at regular intervals is best. This will help to prevent dehydration.

Avoid giving your child dairy products for 7-10 days after an episode of food poisoning, because this might make the diarrhoea go on longer. Other than that, if your child is hungry, you can give him whatever he feels like eating.

Your child might not feel like eating, but don’t stop food for more than 24 hours.

Preventing food poisoning

The first step to preventing food poisoning is always washing your hands thoroughly before eating and handling food.

When you’re preparing food:

  • wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly
  • check that meats are fresh and don’t smell bad
  • cook meat and eggs well
  • don’t prepare raw meat and vegetables on the same surface
  • don’t prepare food for others to eat if you’re sick.

When you’re reheating food, do so thoroughly.

Make sure you store food properly and at the right temperature so it’s protected from contamination. And remember to check the use-by or best-before date on packaging before eating.

When you’re eating out:

  • check the cleanliness of the restaurant or takeaway food shop
  • consider whether staff follow good hygiene practices
  • check that food is being stored and served at the correct temperature
  • check that meat is cooked right through
  • eat takeaway food within a few hours or put it in the fridge as soon as possible.