Food poisoning is commonly experienced by holidaymakers travelling in parts of Europe and in Asia, the Far East, South America and Africa but it should not be tolerated. The gastric illnesses experienced often follows within 72 hours of meals eaten on intercontinental cruises, trains and aircraft, in hotels and restaurants.
Avoiding risky foods is advisable but inevitably complaints will arise when travellers are faced with unhygienic food hygiene practices in their hotel restaurant, particularly if the food has been purchased in advance.
The symptoms include profuse diarrhoea, stomach cramps, vomiting, headaches, nausea and various abdominal complaints, although dehydration can often lead to hospitalisation and serious complications.
Holidaymakers are subjected to bouts of food poisoning after they consume food or drink which are infected with bacteria, parasites, viruses or toxins. By far the most common type of food poisoning experienced by travellers is from a bacterial cause such as campylobacter, E. coli, or salmonella infection.
Most cases are diagnosed by GP's following a culture taken from a stool sample after you return to the UK. Producing a faecal sample is unpleasant but such tests may reveal precisely what type of illness has been experienced and dictate the necessary treatment.
If any illness is confirmed as being food poisoning and you suspect that it was contracted at your hotel the Food Standards Agency will be notified by your doctor.
In most cases, antibiotics are used to treat cases of suspected food poisoning abroad. Medical intervention is not normally recommended in the UK but hotel doctors often hand out drugs to mask the infection from detection. Simpson Millar’s travel lawyers simply advise holidaymakers to ensure they remain hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids and to see their GP as soon as they get home.
Food poisoning is often caused by contaminated and improperly prepared food, re-heated meat dishes, seafood, dairy products and salads. Contamination occurs because food is handled without prior hand washing after handling infected meat. It can also occur if salads are prepared on trays or in utensils that have been in contact with infected meat which are not washed properly.
Unfortunately when a bacteria, protozoa or virus is present it may not change the appearance or taste of the food. It is therefore extremely difficult, if not impossible, for holidaymakers to know whether the food is harmful and contaminated before it is eaten and the symptoms start.
Food borne pathogens can spread and multiply easily and the larger the amount of faecal contaminant present in the food, the quicker the symptoms of food poisoning will develop - the incubation period can be shortened substantially.
It is not unusual for large groups of holidaymakers to be ill at the same time as many of them will consume the same buffet restaurant food at the hotel, particularly if they are staying on an all-inclusive board basis.
The most common bug associated with food poisoning abroad are campylobacter, salmonella and E coli, although shigellla and giardia lamblia can also be experienced. The holiday bug, cryptosporidium may also be linked to food washed in contaminated water, but it is normally contracted by accidently consuming faecally contaminated swimming pool water.
Salmonella food poisoning is caused by a bacterial infection that generally affects the intestinal tract (gut) and occasionally the bloodstream of its victims. After campylobacter, it is the second most common cause of gastro-enteritis experienced by holidaymakers. Most cases occur through a failure to cook and prepare food adequately, particularly chicken and eggs. Any holidaymaker can get Salmonellosis, but it is recognised more often in infants and the elderly who become seriously ill.
E.coli is a bacterium that normally lives in the intestines of humans and animals and although most strains of this bacterium are harmless, a number can cause serious illness. The illness usually presents as diarrhoea and fever with occasional vomiting in holidaymakers – one particular strain known as E. coli 0157 produces a toxin that can cause bloody diarrhoea and kidney damage.
Campylobacter food poisoning is a bacterial infection that affects the intestinal tract and, rarely, the bloodstream. It is the most common cause of Travellers’ Diarrhoea experienced by UK holidaymakers returning from foreign climates. Most cases are seen in the summer months and occur as single cases – outbreaks of infection are probably common but not usually recognised particular as hotelier endeavour to cover up the problem.
Affected holidaymakers on package holidays abroad are entitled to claim compensation from their tour operator for the pain and suffering they endured.
Travellers on package holidays have the benefit of powerful consumer protection regulations in the form of the 1992 Package Travel Regulations and they are therefore able to claim for compensation if they contracted food poisoning due to failures in hygiene standards.
Holidaymakers are advised to retain any evidence they may have to support their claim. They should also ensure that they mention the poor food hygiene concerns when receiving treatment from a doctor. Travellers who have a confirmed diagnosis of salmonella – e coli or campylobacter food poisoning are also likely to be notified by the Environmental Health Department.
Simpson Millar LLP advises all ill holidaymakers to keep photographs, holiday complaint forms and if possible any packaging relating to the medication taken whilst abroad. The names and addresses of any fellow travellers who were also ill will be useful. You should remember to keep documentation relating to expenses such as receipts for prescriptions, the cost of cancelled excursions, receipts for replacement clothing and evidence of travelling and parking expenses to and from their GP or hospital.
Provided we can prove that the food poisoning was caused by exposure to bacteria, toxins, parasites etc. whilst staying at foreign hotel and this was due to an improper performance of the holiday contract, then the claim for personal injuries from a tour operator should be valid. Holidaymakers who have suffered from food poisoning should be aware that there are strict time limits in place to make a holiday illness claim.
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