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Reporting food poisoning

See your doctor if concerned about your health. If the symptoms are severe or if the person is elderly, a very young child or is immuno-compromised SEEK MEDICAL ADVICE IMMEDIATELY. It is of particular concern if the person has signs of bloody diarrhoea.

The doctor may ask the food poisoning sufferer to provide a specimen of faeces (bowel movement) to help with the diagnosis.

Food poisoning is an illness generally caused by eating food contaminated with harmful bacteria or viruses. Many people blame the last meal they ate before they got ill; but this is often not the case.

Depending on the type and amount of harmful organisms consumed, illness can occur within an hour to many days after eating the contaminated food. However, in most cases, symptoms develop one to five days after eating the affected food.

Another complicating factor is that vomiting and diarrhoea are often caused by gastro viruses spread by person-to-person contact and not from food. Outbreaks from such viruses are often reported in the media when they occur on cruise ships.

Information about preventing food poisoning in the home and fact sheets about common food poisoning organisms such as Campylobacter, Salmonella, Viral gastroenteritis and HUS are available on this site.

Reporting and investigation

Identifying the cause of a food poisoning incident is usually done by looking at the number of illness reports by people who have eaten food at a common location or have eaten food distributed by one manufacturer.

If you believe a particular food may have been the cause of food poisoning, or you are aware of persons who have become ill after eating the same meal or attending the same event, please contact your local council Environmental Heath Officer. The Local Government Association website will help locate the Council for a particular town or suburb.

It may be difficult to confidently attribute a single case of illness to a particular food or premises, but the Council officer may record the complaint and wait until a second case confirms it. Alternatively the officer may schedule a visit to the premises to check that good food handling practices are used or undertake a full incident investigation, possibly with assistance of the Department of Health.

If you have food that you suspect may be the cause of food poisoning, keep the food wrapped and stored in the fridge (preferably not the freezer) and retain the food packaging to assist the Environmental Health Officer if the investigation confirms the suspected source.

The Department of Health generally does not support the analysis of an isolated sample in the absence of additional implicating evidence, as there may be no legal way of establishing that a harmful bacteria or virus, if found to be present, did not contaminate the food after it was purchased.

Children and poisons

If a child has eaten something poisonous contact the POISONS INFORMATION SERVICE immediately on 131 126 (Australia-wide Freecall) or seek immediate medical advice.


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