Food Safety, Preparation and Storage Tips
Cooperative Extension, College of Agriculture & Life Sciences, the University of Arizona

Reporting a Food-Borne Illness

Every year in the U.S., an estimated 6.5 to 33 million cases and 9,000 deaths are related to food-borne illness. The cost is estimated at tens of billions of dollars.

Food-borne illness for most "healthy" adults is a nuisance. However, for high risk populations such as young children, the elderly, pregnant women and persons with a weakened immune system or chronic disease, a food-borne illness can cause a significant illness and be life threatening - even lethal.

It is important to report or assist in determining a possible food poisoning outbreak. If you become sick from eating any food or beverage, even though you are the only person to develop an illness, you should still call your county health department or county environmental services. Others who had eaten foods from the same source and became ill may also be calling. It is important to establish a true food-borne disease outbreak. Again, the only way the county health department has of knowing whether or not your illness could be part of a food-borne disease outbreak is for YOU to report it. The county health department should complete a detailed history of your symptoms and recent food and drink intake for the last 3 to 4 days. They will then use this information to determine what to do next.

Sometimes, it isn’t practical to seek medical treatment for vomiting or diarrhea lasting less than 24 hours. But, when it lasts 3 or more days, see your doctor. If you or your family member is one of the high-risk group, you may need to call your doctor after only one day.

Save some of the suspected food which you think caused the illness. Wrap it in a heavy plastic bag and place it on ice or in the refrigerator in a secure container marked "DANGER." Write down the name of the food, when it was eaten and the date of your illness. The sample may be useful to medical personnel treating the illness or to health authorities tracking the problem. Also save the container, wrapping and any metal clip used on the original package. This shows where establishment number as well as the location where the plant that a meat or poultry product is from.

Call your doctor if:

  • Vomiting or diarrhea leads to dehydration.
  • You have bloody diarrhea.
  • General symptoms of fever, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea last for more than 3 days.

Ask your doctor or nurse to get stool cultures.

If you are in the high risk group of people such as small children, the elderly, already have a chronic disease or are immune-compromised, it is even more important to see your doctor immediately. Prevention of food-borne illness should be your main focus.


  • The University of Arizona Fact Sheet, 1997. “Reporting a Food-Borne Illness.”
  • Safe Food Backgrounder, 1993. & At Issue: Food Safety, 1998 National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Consumer Information Department, 444 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611.
  • Preventing Food-borne Illness, 1993. FDA Consumer, Food and Drug Administration, HFI-40, Rockville, MD 20857
  • Arizona Department of Health Services, Environmental Health, 1-602-230-5910
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Food-borne Illness Line
  • USDA/FDA Food-borne Illness Education Information Center
    1-301-504-5719 FAX: 1-301-504-6409

Material written by Mary Abgrall and Scottie Misner, June 1998.
Part of Food Safety Tips, College of Agriculture, The University of Arizona
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