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In this Health Hub article, we explore the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatments of food poisoning.

Food Poisoning

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Food Poisoning

Food Poisoning

In this Health Hub article, we explore the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatments of food poisoning.


Food poisoning is an illness caused by eating contaminated food. It is caused by food that is contaminated by bacteria (e.g. salmonella) or a virus (e.g. norovirus). Foods that are most likely to be contaminated if not handled correctly include meat, ready-made meals e.g. pre-packed sandwiches and dairy products e.g. milk and eggs.

Facts & Figures

  • In 2010 there were 4,500 reported cases of food poisoning in Ireland.

Symptoms of Food Poisoning

Symptoms can present anywhere from a few hours after eating the contaminated food up to days later. Symptoms of mild food poisoning include:

  •       Nausea
  •       Vomiting
  •       Watery diarrhoea
  •       Abdominal pain/cramps
  •       Fever

Most cases of food poisoning do not require medical attention. However medical advice should be sought if you experience any of the following:

  • vomiting for more than 2 days
  • you cannot keep liquids down
  • diarrhoea for more than 3 days
  • vomiting blood
  • bloody diarrhoea
  • Confusion
  • double vision
  • slurred speech

What Causes Food Poisoning?

Food can become contaminated at any stage and can be caused by:

  • not cooking food at the right temperature/the right length of time
  • not chilling food at the correct temperature
  • touching food with unclean hands
  • eating food passed its 'use by' date
  • cross-contamination e.g. preparing raw chicken on a chopping board and not washing it before preparing a salad.


Most cases of food poisoning are self-diagnosed by the individual. If you have a severe case of food poisoning that requires medical attention the doctor, along with taking a full health history may carry out tests such as blood tests and stool cultures to identify the root cause.


In most cases, the symptoms of food poisoning can be relieved at home.

The most important thing is to remain hydrated. Dehydration is a risk as fluid is lost through vomiting and diarrhoea. You should aim to drink 2L of water a day, as well as 200 ml every time you have diarrhoea. If you are more vulnerable to the effects of dehydration e.g. elderly, oral rehydration salts such as Dioralyte are recommended.

While it is commonly thought that it is best not to treat food poisoning unless very serve there are some medications available over the counter and upon recommendation by your pharmacist that will help to ease some of the symptoms associated with food poisoning. These include the following:


In some severe cases of food poisoning antibiotics may be prescribed. Speak to your doctor if you feel your symptoms are severe and you are showing no improvement.

Advice From The Pharmacist

  • The symptoms of food poisoning can last anywhere between 1-7 days      
  • Drink plenty of fluids      
  • Eat smaller, more regular meals      
  • Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and caffeine      
  • Rest      
  • If your symptoms do not improve after 48 hrs or if they are severe seek medical advice.      
  • Prevention is key! The Four C’s can help you to remember this.
    • Cleaning – keep work surfaces clean and wash hands frequently
    • Cooking – ensure food is cooked through and is piping hot in the centre
    • Chilling – cool food quickly by separating into containers and refrigerate within 1-2 hours.
    • Cross-contamination – to prevent cross-contamination:
      • Wash hands after handling raw meat
      • Don’t prepare raw meat on the same surface as other foods
      • Clean knives and other utensils thoroughly after they have been used with raw food.
      • Never wash raw meat because this could splash harmful bacteria around the kitchen.

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