Food poisoning can usually be treated at home without seeking medical advice. Most people will feel better within a few days.
It's important to avoid dehydration by drinking plenty of water, even if you can only sip it, as you need to replace any fluids lost through vomiting and diarrhoea.
You should also:
- rest as much as possible
- eat when you feel up to it – sticking to small, light and non-fatty meals at first (bland foods such as toast, crackers, rice and bananas are good choices)
- avoid alcohol, caffeine, fizzy drinks and spicy and fatty foods because they may make you feel worse
Contact your GP if your symptoms are severe or don't start to improve in a few days.
Preventing the spread of infection
If you have food poisoning, you shouldn't prepare food for other people and you should try to keep contact with vulnerable people, such as the elderly or very young, to a minimum.
Stay off work or school until at least 48 hours after the last episode of diarrhoea.
If someone you live with has food poisoning, you should:
- make sure everyone in your household (including yourself) washes their hands with soap and warm water regularly – particularly after going to the toilet and before and after preparing food
- clean surfaces, toilet seats, flush handles, basins and taps frequently
- make sure everyone has their own towels and flannels
- wash the laundry of the infected person on the hottest washing machine setting
Read more about preventing germs from spreading.
Oral rehydration solution (ORS)
Oral rehydration solutions (ORS) are recommended for people vulnerable to the effects of dehydration, such as the elderly and those with a pre-existing health condition.
ORSs are available in sachets from pharmacies. You dissolve them in water to drink and they help replace salt, glucose and other important minerals your body loses through dehydration.
If you have a kidney condition, some types of oral rehydration salts may not be suitable for you. Ask your pharmacist or GP for further advice about this.
If your symptoms are severe or persistent, or you are more vulnerable to serious infection (for example, because you are elderly or have an underlying health condition), you may need further treatment.
Tests may be carried out on a stool sample to find out what it causing your symptoms and antibiotics may be prescribed if the results show you have a bacterial infection.
Medication to stop you vomiting (anti-emetics) may also be prescribed if your vomiting is particularly severe.
In some cases, you may need to be admitted to hospital for a few days so you can be monitored and given fluids directly into a vein (intravenously).