Reporting food poisoning

If you have experienced food poisoning as a result of eating contaminated food from a café, restaurant or fast food outlet then you will need to report this.

Where to report a case of food poisoning

You must report any case of food poisoning to your local environmental health department. They are part of local government and are there to handle any complaints (or queries) regarding food safety and hygiene.

Every local council in the UK has an environmental health department.

If you visit your GP about your food poisoning then he or she is required, by law, to report this to a local environmental food department.

The Food Standards Agency

The Food Standards Agency website (www.food.gov.uk) has a section within their site on how to find an environmental health office. You enter your postcode and it searches for food standards offices within your area.

The Food Standards Agency works closely with environmental health departments to ensure that food safety and hygiene are of the highest standards.

Environmental health department

An environmental health department will investigate any restaurant or fast food place where there is a case of suspected food poisoning. They will look at food preparation, handling and cooking as well as storage and will suggest ways of improving these as and where necessary.

These improvements will hopefully, prevent any further outbreaks of food poisoning.

Are you certain that your food poisoning is a consequence of your last meal?

It is easy to assume that you have got food poisoning as a result of the last meal you ate, for example, burger and chips from your local takeaway.

Another assumption is if you have become ill the same night you went out to a restaurant which means that the infection must have been picked up at this same restaurant.

But, the symptoms of food poisoning can take a day or two (or even longer) to appear so the source of your illness may be from several days ago. This means it has developed from something you have eaten at home rather than from dining out.

In some cases the symptoms of food poisoning may not appear for up to a week following the initial exposure.

Plus there are several illnesses which cause symptoms that are very similar to those of food poisoning. Some viral infections cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea - which are also symptoms of food poisoning so it is easy to confuse the two.

So, you need to consider these before you report any case of food poisoning.

How to report a case of food poisoning

You can choose to report a case of food poisoning via your GP. He or is legally required to report any cases of food poisoning to an environmental health department.

Another option is to contact the environmental health directly which you can do without having to see your GP first.

The environmental health department will contact you to ask you a series of questions about your food poisoning. They will require as much detail about your illness as you can give them so be prepared to spend a bit of time doing this.

They will ask you about your symptoms; the types of foods you have consumed within the last few days; your job (e.g. do you work with food?) and who else lives in your household.

You will be asked to collect a stool sample if you have not already done so. If you have been to your GP then he/she will have asked you to provide this but if not then you will have to provide this for the environmental health people.

An environmental health officer will speak to you in person, especially if your food poisoning has been contracted from a takeaway or a restaurant. He or she will discuss this at length with you.

Be aware that it is difficult to link a single case of food poisoning to a retail outlet, restaurant or takeaway. The reasons for this include:

  • Whatever food you have eaten will have been thrown away by the time you developed food poisoning.
  • There is no stool sample to prove or reject this claim
  • There is no point in obtaining a stool sample as you reported this case after you have recovered from your illness.

On exception to this is if you are part of a group, for example a wedding party who have all developed food poisoning after a meal or buffet at a reception.

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