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

Some symptoms may show up in as little as 10 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 and laboratories 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. 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.

All food complaints (eg foreign objects in food), labelling queries, or matters associated with allergens should be referred directly to the Ministry for Primary Industries.

Food Safety

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