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Food Poisoning

Go to surveillance data for food poisoning in Wales
Food poisoning is a common name given to predominantly gastro-intestinal infections which arise after the consumption of food or drink that is contaminated with disease-causing bacteria, parasites or viruses.
Over 250 organisms are known to cause foodborne illnesses. The most common types of bacteria to cause infection include Campylobacter, Salmonella, Listeria, Shigella, Clostridium and Escherichia coli (E. coli).
listeria monocytogenes bacterium, one of about 250 organisms which can give rise to food poisoning
The symptoms of food poisoning can vary depending on the cause. The most common symptoms are vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhoea. Other symptoms may include fever, chills, bloody stools, dehydration, muscle aches and exhaustion.

Who gets it and how serious is it?

Anyone can suffer from food poisoning. Most people with food poisoning will recover uneventually.
More serious complications can occur which are largely dependent on the type of organism causing the illness. For example, infection with Listeria can cause miscarriage or damage to the foetus if contracted during pregnancy and E. coli O157 infection can cause severe kidney problems in 2-7% of cases. 
More information about food poisoning is available from the NHS Direct Wales website


The majority of patients do not require specific treatment and make a full recovery. However, medical advice should be sought in instances where: the illness last for more than a few days or general condition worsens; there is blood in the stools or diarrhoea contains yellow/green mucus; the patient is elderly, an infant, pregnant or in ill-health.
Antibiotics may be prescribed for certain types of bacterial infection although should be avoided in E. coli O157 where they make kidney problems more likely. Rehydration therapy may be administered if the patient becomes very dehydrated.

How common is it?

The Food Standards Agency estimates that up to 5.5 million people in the UK are affected by food poisoning each year.
Food poisoning is a notifiable infectious disease in Wales and the UK. Healthcare providers who diagnose food poisoning in a patient are required to report the case. 
However, as most people experience mild symptoms, only a proportion seek medical attention and so the numbers of notifications of food poisoning reported in the UK is less than 100,000 each year. In Wales in 2011, there were 5121 food poisoning notifications reported to Public Health Wales.
More information about the notification of food poisoning in Wales is available from the Public Health Wales Health Protection Division microsite by following the link: food poisoning notifications in Wales


Many cases of food poisoning can be prevented by the correct storage (i.e. avoiding keeping raw and cooked meats together in the fridge, the shopping trolley etc.) and adequate cooking of foods (i.e. reaching adequate temperatures to kill bacteria)and employing hygienic food handling and preparation procedures. Avoidance of certain foods, for example milk and dairy products that are unpasteurised can also lower the risk of illness.
Advice on the safe preparation, storage, cooking and handling of food is available from the Food Standards Agency website at: http://www.food.gov.uk/ 
Food safety advice can be found on the following webpage: http://www.wales.nhs.uk/sites3/news.cfm?orgid=457&contentid=19286

Mimimising impact in Wales

Monitoring levels of notifications of food poisoning and incidence rates of organisms associated with it enables any increases in incidence, which may indicate an outbreak, to be promptly identified. Appropriate measures to contain an outbreak, to prevent further spread and to identify possible sources are implemented by Public Health Wales and other bodies responsible for public health in Wales.

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Last updated: 08 October 2012