In a nutshell: Food poisoning outbreaks can be suspected when two or more individuals developing similar gastrointestinal symptoms after eating common food items. Schools are responsible for closely monitoring for the occurrence of outbreaks, particularly those related to statutory notifiable diseases.

Schools should have protocols in place for handling food poisoning outbreaks that occur in their institution. Follow-up actions may include:

Acute Gastroenteritis vs. Food Poisoning

While they might look alike, acute gastroenteritis is not equivalent to food poisoning.

Acute gastroenteritis is usually caused by viruses, most commonly norovirus, rotavirus and adenovirus, and occurs more frequently in winter. The modes of transmission include contact with vomitus or faeces from infected persons, contact with contaminated environment or objects and aerosol spread with contaminated droplets of splashed vomitus. Acute gastroenteritis outbreaks can happen in institutions where susceptible populations gather, such as schools, childcare facilities and nursing homes.

Food poisoning is usually caused by the consumption of contaminated food or water containing bacteria, viruses, parasites, biotoxins or chemicals. Victims of group food poisoning often share common food items in a meal, whereas this is not necessary in an acute gastroenteritis outbreak.

Relevant Information

Guidelines on Prevention of Communicable Diseases in Schools / Kindergartens / Kindergartens-cum-Child Care Centres / Child Care Centres (Published by the Centre for Health Protection of Department of Health).