Food poisoning and bacteria and viruses in food

Harmful bacteria and viruses can grow on food and make us sick. Sometimes this can be serious or life-threatening. Find out about common causes of foodborne illnesses, symptoms, and how to lower the risk of getting sick.

Contaminated food can make you sick

Food can carry harmful bacteria and viruses that can make you sick. This is known as foodborne illness (or food poisoning). We've got information on:

Less commonly, we can also get sick from eating food when it carries:

  • fungi
  • parasites
  • toxins
  • natural contaminants.

If you think you're sick from something you ate, contact a doctor.

How you can reduce your risk of getting sick

We've got advice on what you can do to help avoid getting sick from food and drink. We've got tips around preparing, cooking, storing, and handling food.

Get tips on safely handling food to help avoid getting sick

Raw meat and cross-contamination (spreading germs)

Clean, cook, chill

Advice on specific bacteria and viruses

There are multiple foodborne bacteria and viruses that can make us sick. The advice for each is similar, but there are some different things to know for each. For example, some are more common on different foods, and some can even grow in the fridge. We've got advice on common and high-risk illnesses.

Find out more about the most common and high-risk types on these pages:

We've also a got a fact sheet you can download.

Fact sheet – Meet the bugs – harmful bacteria and viruses that can cause foodborne illness [PDF, 361 KB]

Common symptoms of foodborne illness

Symptoms may include:

  • nausea or vomiting
  • diarrhoea (which can be bloody)
  • allergic reactions
  • headache
  • stomach cramps or pains
  • fever or chills
  • muscle or joint aches.

Symptoms may show up in as little as 20 minutes, or they could take several weeks.

If you have low immunity

If you have low immunity and think you're sick from something you ate, contact a doctor immediately. Foodborne illness can be mild, but sometimes it can be life-threatening, especially for people with low immunity.

Find out more about food safety for people with low immunity

Advice for other higher-risk groups

Foodborne illnesses can also be serious for:

  • pregnant women and unborn babies
  • newborn babies
  • elderly people.

We've got food safety information for pregnant women.

Food and pregnancy

Notifiable foodborne illnesses

Some foodborne illnesses are notifiable under the Health Act 1956. This means your doctor or testing lab must tell a medical officer of health about your illness. The information gets recorded, which helps MPI and other agencies to take action if needed and minimise its effect in the community. This includes:

  • responding to outbreaks
  • preparing advice for industry and the public
  • recording statistics so that we can understand the situation and respond.

The medical officer of health is responsible for identifying the source of your illness, if possible. If it's a foodborne illness, they'll work with MPI.

See a list of all notifiable diseases in New Zealand – Ministry of Health

Who to contact

If you have questions about food poisoning or bacteria and viruses in food, email info@mpi.govt.nz

Last reviewed: