Guide To Reporting Food-Based Illnesses In The U.S.

Food poisoning and related food borne illness can occur in the home or may be contracted from foods purchased elsewhere, such as from grocery stores or restaurants. When illness from food affects at least two people who have eaten from the same contaminated food or drink source, this is considered to be a food borne outbreak and should be reported immediately to the proper authorities.

Suspected Food Poisoning

The first thing to do if you suspect food poisoning or illness from eating a specific food is to get medical attention. Food poisoning can be fatal, killing approximately 3,000 people every year. If food borne illness is diagnosed, your healthcare provider might be able to steer you in the right direction for reporting to the proper agencies. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, you can report food poisoning and related illness to your local city or county Health Department.

How People Get Food Poisoning

Although many cases of food poisoning occur from improper food handling, storage, and preparation, food can be contaminated at any stage of the food process:

  • Growth
  • Harvest
  • Processing
  • Shipment
  • Storage
  • Sales
  • Handling
  • Preparation

Food poisoning can be caused by contamination with a wide variety of bacteria, viruses, and parasites. These can be spread to food through handling or cross contamination from other food sources such as raw meats. Food-based illness can take from several hours to a week or more before symptoms begin, depending on the specific contaminant.

Why Report Food Poisoning?

When you report food borne illness, investigators can trace the food back in the process to see where the contamination occurred. This increases the chances of halting further spread of the illness to others. The individual or organization responsible for the outbreak can be forced to fix the problem and comply with regulations and requirements for better food safety. You can help prevent others from getting sick by reporting your food borne illness to the appropriate agency in your area.