This service investigates food poisoning and certain other food borne illnesses to prevent the spread of illness within the community and to try and establish possible causes.
Food safety and infectious diseases
Certain infectious diseases are notifiable to the Health Authority and these are investigated by the consultant in communicable disease control (CCDC) or by officers of the Local Authority. 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:
- Preparing foods too far in advance
- Not cooking foods properly
- Not defrosting foods correctly
- Storing foods incorrectly (i.e. too warm) so that bacteria can grow quickly
- Cross contamination of foods after cooking
- Infection from people handling foods due to poor hygiene
Who is at risk?
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.
What are the main symptoms?
- Stomach cramps
Follow our tips to try and reduce food borne illness:
- Wash hands thoroughly before handling food and always after handling raw meat, going to the toilet, blowing your nose or handling animals (including pets)
- Keep food preparation surfaces and utensils clean and disinfected (e.g. anti-bacterial).
- Prepare and store raw meat and 'ready-to-eat' food separately. Always keep raw and defrosting meat at the base of the refrigerator, below everything else.
- Ensure that your refrigerator and freezer are operating properly, invest in a suitable thermometer. The refrigerator should operate at 5 degrees C or lower and the freezer at -18 degrees C or lower.
- Check the 'Use By' dates on food and ensure that you use the food before the date expires.
- Always store eggs in the refrigerator and do not eat food containing uncooked eggs.
- Keep pets away from food and food preparation surfaces.
- Defrost food, particularly meat and poultry thoroughly before cooking.
- Cook food thoroughly. Follow the manufacturers' guidelines and ensure that food is piping hot throughout before consumption.
- Cool food immediately after cooking and never allow it to be at room temperature for more than 4 hours. Always store left over food in the refrigerator as soon as it has cooled to room temperature