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Staphylococcus Aureus

Staphylococcus aureus (Staph aureus) food poisoning occurs after eating food that contains the toxins that are produced by Staphylococcus aureus.

These foods may have been cooked (e.g. meats) or prepared (e.g. cream products), however the toxins are extremely heat stable any can survive the cooking process, even when the bacteria are killed. Staphylococci organisms often live on the skin of hands and in the nose, and some strains are able to grow and produce toxins in foods contaminated by handling, if the storage methods, such as refrigeration, are inadequate.

The onset of symptoms, characterised by severe vomiting with diarrhoea and abdominal pain, occurs rapidly after the contaminated food is eaten, but the illness is short-lived.

Incubation Period

Symptoms can take anything from 1 to 7 hours to appear after the infected food is eaten. The symptoms most commonly appear within 2-4 hours, however.

Common Symptoms

  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain.

Reservoir Of Infection (The Infection Source)

  • Infected, exposed, skin lesions
  • Nostrils
  • Fingers of food handlers
  • Infected animals (Rarely)

Transmission

The infection is usually passed on during or after handling cooked foods such as ham, meat, poultry, fish, prawns and cream cakes, which are then stored at room temperature for more than two hours, and are eaten cold.

Some outbreaks are associated with canned foods that have been contaminated after they have been processed (Cross-contamination)

Staphylococcus aureus Food Poisoning Rates
England & Wales, 1992-2005

Year                  Number of OutbreaksNumber Affected
19927107
1993115
1994217
1995346
19964146
1997218
199800
1999481
200000
200129
200219
200300
2004231
200500
200615

Note: Due to the short duration of symptoms normally associated with Staphylococcus aureus food poisoning, most cases do not report their symptoms to their General practitioner (Doctor) and do not, therefore, feature in national laboratory surveillance. Data from general outbreaks of Staphylococcus aureus food poisoning are therefore provided.

Source: Health Protection Agency Website