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Food Poisoning

10 February 2023

Food poisoning is an illness caused by consuming contaminated food or liquids (e.g. water). It’s not usually serious and most people get better within a few days without treatment. However, some infections spread by food are serious and can be life-threatening. In extreme cases, hospitalisation might be required. Furthermore, some illnesses caused by food poisoning might lead to other health problems, including:

  • Meningitis
  • Kidney damage
  • Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which can cause kidney failure
  • Arthritis
  • Brain and nerve damage

For some people, these health problems can last for weeks or months after recovering from a foodborne illness. For others, they never go away.


Infections That Cause Food Poisoning

Food poisoning is usually caused by:

  • Campylobacter bacteria – usually found on raw or undercooked meat.
  • Salmonella bacteria – often found in raw or undercooked meat, raw eggs, milk, and other dairy products.
  • Listeria bacteria – can be found in a pre-packed sandwiches, cooked sliced meats and soft cheeses.
  • E.coli bacteria – usually caught after eating undercooked beef.
  • Norovirus – spread from person to person, through contaminated food or water.


Food Poisoning Symptoms

Food poisoning usually occurs within one to 72 hours of eating contaminated or poisoned food. Symptoms normally last from one to seven days and include one or more of the following:

  • abdominal pain,
  • diarrhoea,
  • vomitting,
  • feeling sick,
  • fever,
  • dehydration,
  • collapse.


The Most at Risk

Every day thousands of people in Ireland suffer from food poisoning. Many of these will be very ill and some of them will die. Those most at risk include the very young, the elderly, persons who are already ill or recovering, and pregnant women and their unborn babies.

Most cases of food poisoning are the result of people not working properly in the kitchen, ‘taking chances’ and not paying proper attention to the delivery and storage of food. This is why training is important, so that you know what are you doing and are following a safe system when handling or preparing food at all times. That system is HACCP.


Common Causes of Food Poisoning

There are many causes of food poisoning, all of which are avoidable. Let’s look at the most common causes:

  1. Contamination of food by bacteria and viruses, due to not washing hands frequently, especially after sneezing or visiting the toilet, and in between handling raw meats and ready-to-eat food such as salads.
  2. Not heating food sufficiently to kill bacteria.
  3. Holding food: keeping it not hot enough (above 63°C) for too long a period, which allows bacteria to grow.
  4. Holding food: not cold enough. Not keeping food cold in the refrigerator, allowing bacteria to grow in a warm environment.
  5. Contaminating food, which will be not cooked, with bacteria. This is why we keep cooked and raw food separate.
  6. People carrying bacteria. This may be in the form of an infected boil or cut. Some people can carry dangerous bacteria without any sign of being ill.

Bacteria are not only living hazard. Viruses are found in shellfish and ourselves, especially living in close quarters. Other hazards include chemicals such as cleaning solutions and objects such as steel wire that can cut someone’s mouth, and our own hair which can easily fall into food and many carry bacteria. Effective instruction and training will prevent food poisoning if the good practices food handlers are thought are implemented in the workplace.


Please remember – it is a legal requirement that staff who are involved in a food environment are trained and/or supervised commensurate with their work activity!

Myelearnsafety offers fully online Food Safety (HACCP) courses.

To find out more, please check our Courses page.

Alternatively, should you need any additional information, please do not hesitate to let us know via email