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Food-related outbreaks

If there are cases of illness among staff or customers in your food premises, there could be an outbreak of viral gastroenteritis.

You must report this to us so we can help identify any potential outbreak and control it.

We also publish information on food poisoning and infectious diseases.

On this page:

Identifying an outbreak

If you have two or more cases of diarrhoea or vomiting reported in the same week, occurring in either guests or members of staff, it is likely that there is an outbreak of viral gastroenteritis linked to the premises.

This may be the case if:

  • several people report diarrhoea or vomiting (either to your business or Public Health England)
  • over half of the cases have vomiting
  • the onset of illness is sudden and occurs a short time after the visit or during the stay (average incubation period is 24 to 48 hours)
  • recovery of illness is quick (average duration 12 to 60 hours)
  • no one with illness has submitted a faecal sample that has grown a different organism in the laboratory.

In these circumstances, contact us as soon as possible by calling 023 8028 5230 or by email to

Prevent the spread of infection

We will advise you how to prevent further cases, and investigate the source and cause of the illness.

Confirmation can take a few days, as samples of food or faeces will need to be analysed in a laboratory.

While the investigation is being carried out, the following action should be taken by you to help prevent the spread of infection:

  1. Assemble an 'Outbreak Control Team' to consider your action plan, including the responsibilities and duties of key personnel. This includes the verification of cleaning and disinfection procedures and protocols.
  2. Nominate an 'Outbreak Cleaning Team' to address incidents of sickness that may occur at any time of the day. This should continue until the outbreak has ceased and until at least 48 hours have passed without any further incidents arising.
  3. Consider the introduction of a shift rota during the period of an outbreak. Ensure thorough training is given to all night staff that may be called upon to clean affected areas.
  4. Collect information and faecal specimens.
  5. Determine the severity of the outbreak. You should consider:
  • closing part of the premises
  • closing all of the premises
  • phasing or suspending the arrival of new customers.

These may be appropriate to enable a full programme of environmental cleaning and disinfection to take place. In theory, a closure of 48 to 72 hours may be adequate, provided no more guests or staff are ill and a cleaning programme is undertaken as described.

It is not always possible to prevent an initial infection being brought into your business. However, it is possible to take reasonable precautions and show due diligence to avoid the risk of harm to customers.

The consequences to your business will be greater if you are unaware of the problem, delayed reporting it or did nothing to resolve it.


Outbreaks of viral gastroenteritis are commonly caused by norovirus, sometimes referred to as 'winter vomiting disease'. This illness is particularly common in situations where large numbers of people live or eat in proximity of each other, such as hotels and restaurants.

An outbreak of norovirus can be easily spread if no action plan is in place to ensure that adequate hygiene standards are maintained. It is possible, through prompt action, to control and avoid a single case becoming an outbreak situation.

Norovirus can be resistant to cleaning chemicals and may survive in the environment for several days, making it difficult to remove from items such as soft furnishing and carpets without steam cleaning.

Norovirus and other viruses causing gastroenteritis can be found in, but not limited to, the following sources.

Human cases

Customers, members of staff or visitors may be unaware that they are infected. It is difficult to prevent a customers visiting your premises when poorly, but members of staff and contractors can be prevented from introducing an infection by having good infection control procedures in place.


Shellfish such as mussels, clams and oysters are live foods. These types of shellfish feed by filtering nutrients from the water, so are susceptible to contamination. Your business may control this by ensuring all shellfish are purchased from reputable suppliers, stored, prepared and handled correctly.

Ready to eat salads

Watercress and other ready to eat salad type foods are also susceptible to contaminated water sources. Your business should ensure that these are purchased from reputable suppliers and handled and stored correctly.

Contact details

For further information about outbreaks, contact us using the details below.


Phone: 023 8028 5411

Food Safety Team
New Forest District Council
Appletree Court
Beaulieu Road
SO43 7PA

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