How do you report food that made you sick?

Quick Answers

If you get sick from eating food, there are a few steps you should take to report it:

  • Save any leftover food in the fridge in case it needs to be tested.
  • Write down what you ate, when you ate it, and when you started feeling sick.
  • Call the restaurant or grocery store where you got the food to inform them.
  • Call your local health department to file a report.
  • See a doctor and get diagnosed – you may need tests to confirm it’s a foodborne illness.
  • Report it to the USDA or FDA on their websites if it’s a packaged food item.

Reporting the issue quickly can help prevent others from getting sick. Keeping as many details as possible will assist the investigation.

Getting sick from eating contaminated food is an unfortunate and common occurrence. According to the CDC, each year around 48 million people get sick from foodborne illnesses, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die. Foodborne illness is often referred to as “food poisoning.”

Foodborne illnesses are caused by consuming food or drinks contaminated by bacteria, viruses, parasites, or chemicals. The contamination generally happens in food production, processing, or preparation. Restaurant and home-cooked meals can both spread foodborne illnesses if handled improperly.

If you or someone you know gets symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, fever, cramps, and nausea after eating food, it’s important to consider whether the food caused the sickness and take action to report it. Properly reporting contaminated food can help prevent others from getting sick and assist authorities in locating the source of the problem.

Save Any Leftover Food

If you still have any of the suspect food remaining, it’s important to immediately store it in the refrigerator in a sealed container. The food may need to be collected and tested by local health authorities to identify biological or chemical contamination. Having a sample of the food greatly assists the investigation process.

If it was a meal at a restaurant, try to get a take-home box and put any leftovers in the fridge as soon as possible. The restaurant may also want the tainted food returned for testing.

If it was a packaged food from a grocery store, keep the original packaging and store the item in the fridge. Having the barcode and lot numbers from packaged foods can help identify the source of contamination in manufacturing and precise batches to recall.

Properly storing leftovers gives investigators their best chance at determining what made you sick. Discarding food or letting it sit at room temperature allows bacteria to continue multiplying and makes testing less accurate.

What to Save

  • Any remaining portions of the suspect food
  • Original packaging with lot numbers, expiration dates, etc (for packaged items)
  • Restaurant take-home boxes with any uneaten food

How to Store It

  • Refrigerate in sealed containers as soon as possible
  • Label containers with the date and where it came from
  • Avoid cross-contaminating refrigerator items
  • If a large amount, consider freezing portions

Write Down Details About Your Illness

As soon as you start experiencing food poisoning symptoms, you’ll want to write down detailed notes about what happened. Getting as much information down as possible while it’s still fresh in your mind will help investigators piece together the cause.

Important details to write down include:

  • What food you ate
  • What time you ate it
  • Where you got the food from
  • Who you ate with and if they also got sick
  • What time symptoms started
  • What symptoms you experienced

Continue taking notes as your symptoms progress, including any medication taken and notes from doctor’s visits. Hang onto these records in case health departments want to review them.

Sample Food Poisoning Notes

Here’s an example of thorough notes to take if you believe a food source caused your sickness:

  • Tuesday, September 7th: Ate chicken salad sandwich and side salad around 12:30 pm from the Main Street Deli. Also ate with coworkers Nancy and Brian.
  • Tuesday, September 7th, 3pm: Started feeling nauseous and cramping.
  • Tuesday, September 7th, 5pm: Began vomiting and having diarrhea. Felt feverish.
  • Wednesday, September 8th: Called in sick to work. Symptoms continuing. Took Imodium for the diarrhea.
  • Thursday, September 9th: Finally able to keep down crackers and ginger ale. Symptoms lessening but still feel weak and tired.

Notify the Restaurant or Retailer

If you got sick from food at a restaurant, purchased from a grocery store, or ordered from a delivery app, you’ll want to contact the business directly to let them know. This allows the establishment to be alerted to a potential food safety issue.

Call or visit the location and ask to speak to a manager. Explain that you (or whoever got sick) ate food from them on a particular date and got ill with food poisoning symptoms after. Provide details like the specific menu items eaten, the time purchased, and symptoms experienced.

The manager may ask additional questions to try and pinpoint the problematic food and identify if other customers reported getting sick as well. They will likely want to thoroughly sanitize equipment and discard any remaining ingredients from that day.

Notifying the source early can prompt businesses to evaluate food handling procedures, employee health policies, and ingredient tracing. This quicker intervention and heightened diligence going forward may prevent a more widespread outbreak among future customers.

What to Tell Them

  • Your name and when/what you ate there
  • Date and time you got sick
  • Your symptoms and if anyone else you ate with got sick
  • If you have any leftover food saved

File a Report with the Health Department

After notifying the source of the suspect food, you’ll also want to report the incident to your local health department. They may ask for the details about your illness and foods eaten and initiate an investigation if they identify a potential public health hazard.

Many health departments have online “foodborne illness complaint forms” you can submit. You’ll enter information like:

  • Contact info
  • Date ate suspect food
  • Food establishment where purchased
  • Foods eaten
  • Time and symptoms started

Some key reasons to report food poisoning cases to health departments include:

  • They can identify if other cases are linked to the same source and if there’s an outbreak.
  • They have authority to inspect involved restaurants, grocery stores, etc.
  • They can order recalls of contaminated packaged foods.
  • They can mandate improved food safety practices if violations are found.
  • They maintain statistics on foodborne illness rates in their jurisdiction.

You play an important part by contributing data that allows health agencies to uncover issues and monitor public health. Reporting can bring to light ongoing problems at food establishments that need intervention or training.

Finding Your Local Health Department

To find the right office or website to submit a foodborne illness complaint in your area:

  • Search online for “(Your city/county) health department”
  • Look for “Environmental Health” or “Food Safety” programs
  • Check for report forms or contact phone numbers to call
  • Can also report to your state health department

See a Doctor for Evaluation

It’s recommended to consult a doctor if you think you have a foodborne illness. A physician can evaluate your symptoms, order lab tests, diagnose the specific cause, and provide appropriate treatment guidance.

Make an appointment as soon as possible and inform them that you suspect food poisoning. Be prepared to provide details about:

  • Your symptoms and when they started
  • What and when you ate prior to getting sick
  • How long symptoms have lasted
  • Existing medical conditions you have

Based on the evaluation, the doctor may:

  • Order blood work or stool tests to identify bacteria, viruses, or parasites
  • Prescribe medications for diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration, fever
  • Provide guidance on home hydration and care
  • Admit you to the hospital if severely dehydrated or ill

Testing can differentiate between types of foodborne illnesses with similar symptoms but different causes, like salmonella, E. coli, listeria, norovirus, etc. Diagnostic results may be shared with health agencies tracking outbreaks.

When to See a Doctor

You should visit or call your physician if you experience:

  • Diarrhea lasting over 3 days
  • Fever higher than 101.5??F
  • Bloody stools
  • Vomiting that prevents keeping liquids down
  • Signs of dehydration like dizziness
  • Severe abdominal pain and cramping

Report to Regulatory Agencies

For suspected food poisoning from packaged goods and consumer products, you’ll also want to file complaints directly with federal food regulatory agencies.


The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) oversees packaged foods shipped across state lines, produce, seafood, eggs, dairy, packaged foods, and imported foods.

To report a foodborne illness to the FDA:

  • Call 1-800-SAFEFOOD
  • Complete their online “Report a Problem with Food” form

You’ll need details like product brand names, identifiers, purchase locations, and product photos or packaging to provide the FDA. This assists them in tracing contaminated products in nationwide distribution.


The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) regulates meat, poultry, and processed egg products.

To report a foodborne illness to the USDA:

The USDA can initiate recalls of products like ground beef, chicken nuggets, or turkey sausage linked to sicknesses around the country.


Getting sick from contaminated food is a scary and unpleasant experience. However, reporting details about your illness can play an important role in keeping others safe and uncovering problem food sources. Take actions like:

  • Saving uneaten food for testing
  • Notifying the restaurant or store
  • Filing health department complaint forms
  • Seeing a doctor promptly if symptoms are severe
  • Reporting products to the FDA or USDA

Completely recovering from a foodborne illness may take several days. Stay hydrated and take over-the-counter medicines as needed for symptoms. Food establishments and health agencies depend on customer reports to improve public health, so be sure to pass on any details that could reveal the contamination source and prevent future illnesses!

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