Food poisoning

Food poisoning is a group of illnesses caused by eating contaminated food or drink.

While symptoms can be unpleasant, for some people they can be quite serious.

Types of food poisoning

Most food poisoning occurs from harmful bugs getting into food.

The most common types being:

  • Bacterial eg Salmonella, Campylobacter, E.Coli, Listeria
  • Viral eg Norovirus, Rotavirus, Hepatitis A
  • Intoxication caused by the Toxins produced by some bacteria eg Staphylococcus Aureus, Bacillus Cereus and Clostridium Perfringens

Sometimes these bacteria and toxins can be spread from person to person, or through contaminated surfaces.


Like gastroenteritis, symptoms can be very mild, or very severe. Sometimes the symptoms appear within a few hours, like in the case of toxins, or can take a few days if an infection from a bacteria or virus.

Symptoms often include:

  • Nausea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Diarrhoea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Headaches


  • Poor handwashing technique
  • Contaminated kitchen utensils
  • Not cooking or preparing food thoroughly
  • Not storing food that needs to be chilled under 5 degrees
  • Someone who is ill handling food
  • Eating food after its use by date
  • Cross contamination from surfaces

Higher risk foods include

  • meat, especially undercooked mince and rolled, formed or tenderised meats
  • raw or undercooked poultry such as chicken, duck and turkey
  • raw or lightly cooked eggs including foods made from raw egg such as unpasteurised mayonnaise
  • smallgoods such as salami and hams
  • seafood
  • cooked rice not kept at correct temperatures
  • cooked pasta not kept at correct temperatures
  • prepared salads such as coleslaw, pasta salads and rice salads
  • prepared fruit salads
  • unpasteurised dairy products

What to do if you have food poisoning

People with vomiting and diarrhoea are encouraged to take time off school or work and remain home, and drink plenty of fluids if tolerated.
If you can help it, do not prepare any food while you are unwell, and for 2 days after your symptoms have improved.
If you find it difficult to drink any fluids, have excessive vomiting, nausea, pain or diarrhoea, see your doctor to assess your hydration status. You may be prescribed medicine that helps you feel better.

When to seek medical attention

  • If symptoms persists for more than 3 days or are very severe
  • If you are not able to keep fluids down for more than a day
  • If symptoms include blood or mucus in the vomit or diarrhoea
  • If the person is at risk of dehydration such as infants and the elderly.

For any of the above consult a doctor as early as possible

Making a complaint

If you believe you have suffered from food poisoning, and you think an investigation is warranted, you can contact the NSW food authority here

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