Most of us have had food poisoning at some time. Or know of someone who has had it.
The symptoms can be dramatic, not to mention miserable!
Luckily, you can usually care for yourself at home and you should start feeling better within a week.1
And, because food poisoning is so common, it is good to know the causes, symptoms and treatments so you can be prepared.
And, if you think home-cooked food might have been the cause, reads on to learn how best to prevent food poisoning.
Food poisoning happens due to poor food hygiene or improper handling.
It can happen with any type of food if:
- it has not been cooked or reheated enough
- it has been stored incorrectly (if it has been left out of the fridge too long, for example)
- it was cooked or prepared by someone with germs on their hands (which could be due to illness or poor hand hygiene)
- it was eaten after its expiry date
There are several common germs that lead to food poisoning. The most common in the UK is campylobacter bacteria, but you can also get food poisoning after ingesting salmonella bacteria, E. coli bacteria, or norovirus germs.2
The key symptoms of food poisoning
The main symptoms of food poisoning are nausea and vomiting, diarrhoea, tummy cramps, a temperature of 38 degrees Celsius or more, and generally feeling unwell.3
Vomiting usually stops within 1 or 2 days, while diarrhoea can take a little longer: within 5 to 7 days.4
How long does food poisoning take to kick in?
Food poisoning onset (known as the incubation period) can be anywhere from a few hours after eating to days afterwards, or even a few weeks.5
There is no exact food poisoning time, as it really depends on what food it was that poisoned you, how much you ate, the state of your immune system and the speed of your metabolism, among other things.
However, campylobacter bacteria usually kicks in around 2-5 days after you have ingested it.6
Food poisoning and pregnancy
It is wise to try to avoid all risk of food poisoning when you are pregnant, not least because there is also a risk that if pregnant people get food poisoning, it could affect the unborn baby too.
There are a number of foods that carry a higher risk of containing poisonous bacteria, such as unpasteurised dairy, raw or undercooked meat, shellfish or eggs, soft cheeses and pates.
Therefore, if you are pregnant, be sure to get an up-to-date list of pregnancy no-nos from your healthcare provider, in order to do your best to reduce the risk of food poisoning.
You might like to read more on this topic and find out which foods to avoid during pregnancy in our article “The new pregnancy food rules.”
How is food poisoning treated?
So what can you do if you contract food poisoning?
The NHS advises staying off work (or school) for at least two days after any vomiting or nausea clears up and avoiding swimming pools for two weeks after the symptoms stop.7,8
There are several ways to self-treat at home if you are experiencing any of the symptoms of food poisoning.
These include taking paracetamol for general aches, pains and fevers; getting lots of rest; and taking lots of fluids – ideally water or squash, but rehydration sachets from the pharmacy are also a good idea if you are losing a lot of fluids.
You can read more about “The importance of keeping hydrated when experiencing nausea or vomiting” via our Health Hub.
If you live with others, make sure that while you are ill, you use your own towels, wash your clothes separately and spray or wipe down surfaces and door handles daily, so that the germs are not passed on.9
The NHS advises staying off work (or school) for at least two days after any vomiting or nausea clears up and avoiding swimming pools for two weeks after the symptoms stop.10,11
What to eat after food poisoning
The best advice, especially if you have not been able to keep much food down, is eat when you are able!
The NHS says that you do not need to eat or avoid any specific foods.12
However, many people choose to eat more whole grains and avoid heavy, fatty or spicy at first.13
How to prevent food poisoning
The NHS advises taking the following steps in order to try to prevent food poisoning14:
- Thorough hand washing before touching food
- Thorough cleaning of worktops before preparing food
- Using clean, dry dishcloths as damp ones tend to harbour bacteria
- Using separate chopping boards for raw meat and cooked produce and vegetables
- Storing raw meat on the bottom shelf of the fridge so that it does not contaminate other food
- Preparing raw meat separately from the other ingredients, and not washing it before cooking
- Keeping the fridge temperature below 5 degrees Celsius
- Adhering to “best before” dates
- Cooling cooked food quickly if you are planning to reheat it, and only storing it for up to two days before disposing of it
In most cases, the effects of food poisoning will clear up on their own within a few days of the first signs and symptoms.
But if you have any concerns about your health, please see your GP or emergency healthcare provider for further advice.
Last updated: 17 March 2021