Foodborne illness (or food poisoning) is the term used when someone becomes ill after eating food or drink containing harmful bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, toxins or natural contaminants. It can occur when food has been incorrectly cooked, stored or handled. Young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with other illnesses may be more susceptible.


Symptoms of foodborne illness may include:

  • nausea or vomiting
  • diarrhoea
  • allergic reactions
  • headache
  • stomach cramps or pains
  • fever or chills
  • muscle or joint aches.

Some symptoms may show up in as little as 20 minutes – or it could take several weeks before a person becomes unwell. Often foodborne illness is not caused by the last food a person ate.

Foodborne Illness Investigations

It is important that people go to their doctor if they think they have symptoms of foodborne illness. They should request that a stool sample be sent to the laboratory for analysis. Doctors are legally required to notify the Public Health Service of certain foodborne illnesses. Individuals can also contact the Nelson Marlborough Public Health Service directly if they believe a food they ate made them sick. If foodborne illness is suspected, a stool sample may be requested and an investigation undertaken. Where a link to a food premises is confirmed, the Public Health Service works with the Ministry for Primary Industries to prevent further spread of the disease.

Food Safety

The risk of foodborne illness can be reduced by following safe food practices, including the Ministry for Primary Industries “clean, cook, cover, chill” messaging and effective handwashing techniques.