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Food Poisoning

What causes Food Poisoning?
Food poisoning occurs when food that is contaminated with harmful bacteria is eaten. Bacteria can come to be found in food by a variety of means, but the most common are:

  • inadequate cooking to kill harmful food bacteria
  • improper storage of foods that are a potential source of food poisoning bacteria
  • cross contamination of bacterial infection from one food product to another
  • poor hygiene standards

Whilst the symptoms suffered are dependent on the type of bacteria ingested, common symptoms include:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Stomach cramps

Repeated vomiting and diarrhoea from food poisoning can dehydrate a person rapidly. The elderly, pregnant women and the very young are at particular risk from serious injury due to dehydration. Urgent hospital treatment should be sought for severe cases of infection.

Food poisoning can arise from the commercial sale, supply or provision of food. This means contracted from restaurants and other public places where you may eat or drink. In rare circumstances claims could arise from occupational exposure to contaminated food i.e. from a staff canteen, although they are unusual.

Common Types of Food Poisoning include:

  • E.Coli (Escherichia coli)
  • Campylobacter
  • Listeria
  • Salmonella

E.Coli (Escherichia coli)
Most strains of E.Coli are harmless, but those that produce verocytotoxin (called verocytotoxin-producing E.coli, or VTEC) can cause severe illness, including diarrhoea. In the UK, the most common type is E.Coli 0157.  E.Coli are bacteria that normally live in the intestines of humans and animals.  E.Coli 0157 can cause severe diarrhoea and even kidney damage.

Symptoms:

  • abdominal pain - typically, the first symptom 
  • diarrhoea 
  • nausea 
  • vomiting 
  • fever 
  • fatigue
Symptoms can be experienced within three to four days after being exposed to the bacteria. In some cases they may appear within a day or up to a week later.

Campylobacter 
Campylobacter is the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK. It has been found mainly in poultry, red meat, unpasteurised milk and untreated water. Although it doesn't grow in food, it spreads easily.  Only a few bacteria, for example in a piece of undercooked chicken, can cause illness.

Symptoms:

  • abdominal pain 
  • diarrhoea (blood commonly also present in stools) 
  • nausea and vomiting 
  • fever
  • fatigue
Symptoms can occur within a few hours to a day.

Listeria
Listeriosis, the foodborne illness caused by listeria, is relatively rare but causes more deaths from food poisoning in the UK than other foodborne pathogens. 

Listeria monocytogenes is present all around in the environment. It has also been found in low numbers in many foods. 

In certain foods it may be present in higher numbers, such as soft mould-ripened cheeses and pâtés. Eating foods containing high levels of listeria monocytogenes is generally the cause of illness.

Listeria monocytogenes usually causes illness in vulnerable groups, such as pregnant women, babies, the elderly and people with reduced immunity. Among these groups the illness is often severe and life threatening.

Symptoms:

  • abdominal pain 
  • diarrhoea  
  • nausea and vomiting 
  • fever
  • fatigue
  • muscle ache and convulsions
  • death (rare) 
It can take up to 2 months for symptoms to occur.

Salmonella
Salmonella is the second most common cause of food poisoning after campylobacter. It has been found in unpasteurised milk, eggs and raw egg products, meat and poultry. It can survive if food is not cooked properly. Salmonella can grow in food. If a small number of bacteria are present in a food, they will multiply unless it is chilled.

Symptoms:

  • abdominal pain 
  • diarrhoea (blood commonly present in stools) 
  • nausea and vomiting 
  • fever
  • fatigue
Usually symptoms occur between 12 to 72 hours.

In the context of food poisoning claims, the food product will be considered defective if it is found to be unsafe to eat i.e. it contained harmful bacteria. If you plan on making a claim, you will need to demonstrate:

  • that the food was not safe (it contained bacteria capable of causing food poisoning) 
  • that you were ill (suffered food poisoning symptoms) 
  • that the cause of the illness was the unsafe food 

The main responsibilities for all food businesses under the Food Safety Act are:

  • to ensure retailers/producers do not include anything in food, remove anything from food or treat food in any way, which means it would be damaging to the health of people eating it
  • to ensure that the food served or sold is of the nature, substance or quality which consumers would expect
  • to ensure that the food is labelled, advertised and presented in a way that is not false or misleading

The Act does not cover hygiene, which is dealt with by separate legislation, or food prepared in the home for domestic purposes. It does cover food prepared by child-minders in their homes for other people's children, and also extends to activities such as the preparation of food in canteens, clubs, schools, hospitals, institutions and public and local authorities. 

Claiming Compensation
If you have suffered from food poisoning that wasn’t your fault then you may be entitled to compensation. 

Claims can be difficult to pursue if the food poisoning bacteria has a long incubation period, or if you have eaten in several different establishments in a short period of time, as it is harder to identify the source of the infection.

To assist in pursuing your claim we would recommend that you obtain the following:

  • a list of everything you have eaten in the 24 hours prior to onset of food poisoning symptoms 
  • relevant receipts such as restaurant bills or supermarket receipts
  • contact details of any possible witnesses, including friends or family that have suffered with similar symptoms 

Report your illness to the relevant establishment as soon as possible and consider whether to involve Environmental Health. Keep a record of all reports and details of who you speak to. 

Proving the cause of your illness can be a challenge and so we recommend that you seek medical attention as soon as possible after the onset of symptoms. Ensure that you report to your GP everything that you have eaten and the suspected cause of food poisoning. 

How much is my claim worth?
The assessment of compensation, or damages, will depend on the duration and extent of the symptoms suffered. The majority of claims attract awards between £1,000 and £5,000. You are also entitled to claim any financial losses suffered as a result of your illness, including loss of earnings and the cost of medication.  

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