Gastroenteritis and food poisoning are a public health concern

Acute gastroenteritis is a highly contagious disease that many of us have experienced. Community and Public Health can investigate cases of gastroenteritis if groups of people are affected at the same time or if a food premise, event or location is implicated.

Sources and symptoms of Acute gastroenteritis

Acute gastroenteritis is caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemicals and can be spread:

  • By ingesting contaminated food (food poisoning); or
  • By ingesting contaminated water; or
  • From animals; or
  • Directly from one person to another person; or
  • From contaminated objects in the environment.

The common symptoms of diarrhoea, vomiting and stomach cramps are caused by the digestive system being inflamed. These symptoms can last from a few hours, days, weeks or months – depending on the cause.

What to do if you think you have food poisoning

Call the Communicable Disease Team at Community and Public Health if you think you have food poisoning. A staff member will complete a questionnaire with you over the phone. The information will used to determine the likely source and cause of your illness. You may need to provide poo samples (and food specimens if available) to assist in the investigation.

Most people think that the last food they ate caused their illness. However symptoms can take from 30 minutes to over 10 days to start. Community and Public Health may follow up food poisoning cases where a food premise, event or location is implicated. Further investigation is then carried out and the local Council or Ministry for Primary Industries (Food Safety Section) notified of an issue if needed.

Dealing with gastroenteritis outbreaks in aged care and education settings

Cases of acute gastroenteritis are increasing in health care facilities and education settings in New Zealand. These institutional outbreaks are concerning as the very young and elderly are at greater risk of being seriously affected. Community and Public Health staff can provide assistance to deal with these infectious diseases when they happen and also guidance to limit the impact on everyone involved.

Staff need to act quickly if a rest home suddenly has an increase in diarrhoea or vomiting. Staff should take the following steps:

  • Seek infection control advice from an Infection Control Nurse at a Community Laboratory.
  • Contact the Communicable Disease Team at Community and Public Health to notify the outbreak to the Medical Officer of Health.
  • Download the Outbreak Notification and Case Log Forms. Fax the completed forms to Community and Public Health at the end of the outbreak.

The Communicable Disease Team can provide further advice or assistance if needed.



Download or order resources from the Community Health Information Centre.


Contact the Communicable Disease staff at your local office to report possible food poisoning:

Ph: +64 3 364 1777

Ph: +64 3 687 2600

Ph: +64 3 768 1160

Page last updated: 16/06/2022

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