Food poisoning

Food poisoning is an illness caused by eating contaminated food. It’s not usually serious and most people get better within a few days without treatment.

In most cases, food is contaminated by bacteria or a virus like:

Food Standards Scotland has further information about bacteria and viruses that can cause food poisoning.

Symptoms of food poisoning

Symptoms of food poisoning include:

  • feeling sick (nausea)
  • being sick (vomiting)
  • diarrhoea, which may contain blood or mucus
  • stomach cramps and abdominal pain
  • a lack of energy and weakness
  • loss of appetite
  • a high temperature of 38C or above (fever)
  • aching muscles
  • chills

The symptoms of food poisoning usually begin within 1 to 2 days of eating contaminated food. They can also start a few hours later or several weeks later.

What to do if you have food poisoning

Do

  • stay off school or work until you have not been sick or had diarrhoea for at least 2 days
  • rest
  • drink lots of water to prevent dehydration – you can sip it if this is easier
  • consider speaking to your pharmacist about an oral rehydration solution (ORS)
  • eat when you feel up to it – try small, light meals
  • eat bland foods like toast, crackers, banana and rice until you feel better
  • avoid alcohol, caffeine, fizzy drinks, spice and fatty foods – they may make you feel worse

Speak to a GP if you:

  • have a weak immune system – for example, because of medication, cancer treatment or HIV
  • have severe symptoms
  • are pregnant
  • don’t start to see improvements to your symptoms after a few days
  • are unable to keep down any fluids because you’re vomiting repeatedly
  • have symptoms of severe dehydration, like confusion, a rapid heartbeat, sunken eyes and passing little or no urine
  • are over 60
  • think your baby or young child has food poisoning
  • have a long-term underlying condition, like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), diabetes or kidney disease

How you get food poisoning

Food poisoning is caused by eating something that’s been contaminated with germs. Any type of food can cause food poisoning.

Food can be contaminated if it’s

  • not cooked or reheated thoroughly
  • not stored correctly – for example, it’s not been frozen or chilled
  • left out for too long
  • handled by someone who’s ill or hasn’t washed their hands
  • eaten after its ‘use by’ date
  • not reheating cooked food well enough

Further information on preparing and cooking food safely

Preventing infection when you’re ill

Do

  • try to keep contact with vulnerable people to a minimum, for example the very young or elderly
  • wash your hands with soap and warm water often
  • clean surfaces, toilet seats, flush handles, basins and taps often
  • make sure everyone in the household has their own towels and flannels
  • wash the laundry of the infected person on the hottest washing machine setting

Last updated:
29 May 2023