Know the steps to follow if you develop a foodborne illness

Foodborne diseases are the illnesses contracted from eating contaminated food or beverages. If you develop a foodborne illness follow these important steps.

Foodborne diseases are the illnesses people get from eating contaminated food or beverages. There are more than 250 different foodborne diseases caused by viruses, bacteria, parasites, toxins and metals. Some symptoms of foodborne illness range from mild stomach upset to life-threatening conditions. Michigan State University Extension offers tips and programming to ensure food safety.

When certain disease causing bacteria, viruses or parasites contaminate food, they can cause foodborne illness. Another word for such a bacteria, virus or parasite is “pathogen.” Foodborne illness, often called food poisoning, is an illness that comes from a food you eat. The food supply in the United States is among the safest in the world, but it can still be a source of infection for all persons. For more in-depth information check the food safety inspection service fact sheets.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 48 million persons get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from foodborne infection and illness in the United States each year. Many of these people are children, older adults or have weakened immune systems and may not be able to fight infection normally.

If you should happen to contract a foodborne illness these are important steps to follow:

1. Consult your physician or health care provider or seek medical treatment as appropriate. As an older adult, you are at increased risk for severe infection.

  • Contact your physician immediately if you develop symptoms or think you may be at risk.
  • If you develop signs of infection as discussed with your physician, seek out medical advice and/or treatment immediately.

2. Preserve the food.

  • If a portion of the suspect food is available, wrap it securely, label it to say “DANGER” and freeze it.
  • The remaining food may be used in diagnosing your illness and in preventing others from becoming ill.

3. Save all the packaging materials, such as cans or cartons.

  • Write down the food type, the date and time consumed and when the onset of symptoms occurred. Write down as many foods and beverages you can recall consuming in the past week (or longer), since the onset time for various foodborne illnesses differ.
  • Save any identical unopened products.
  • If the suspect food is a USDA-inspected meat, poultry or egg product, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline, 1-888-MPHotline (188-674-6854). For all other foods, call the FDA office of Emergency Operations at 1-866-300-4374 or 301-796-8240.

4. Call your local health department

  • If you believe you became ill from food you ate in a restaurant or other food establishment.
  • The health department staff will be able to assist you in determining whether any further investigation is warranted.
  • To locate your local health department, visit Health Guide USA.

You can keep you and your family safe by remembering to follow these guidelines. Following these steps will allow food establishments and local health departments to prevent others from foodborne illness.

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