/Foodborne Illness

Foodborne Illness

What is foodborne illness?

Foodborne illness is often called food poisoning. It occurs when someone becomes ill after eating a food or drinking a beverage contaminated with a harmful substance.

What causes foodborne illness?

Not all foodborne illnesses are the same. It occurs when food is contaminated with a harmful substance, such as bacteria, virus, parasites, natural toxins, or chemicals.

Some substances cause illness within minutes, while others take several hours, days or even weeks. For example, Salmonella bacteria usually take 12-72 hours after ingestion to cause illness. So remember, it’s not always the last food eaten that caused illness. The food that caused the illness may actually have been eaten several days before the illness began.

Symptoms of foodborne illness:

Common SymptomsFrequent SymptomsUnusual Symptoms
Abdominal cramps
Muscle aches
Irregular Heartbeat
Flushing of skin
Difficulty breathing

Foodborne illness is not always the cause for vomiting or diarrhea. If you share a meal with someone and you both get sick, it’s likely that you are both suffering from a foodborne illness.

However, the more time you spend with another person, such as sharing the same residence or workplace, the more likely it is that you will both be exposed to the same illness. Many gastrointestinal illnesses, especially those that are viral, are not caused by food or drink.

People who work as food/beverage handlers should not handle food to be served to the public if they have specific foodborne illness symptoms or if they have been diagnosed with any illness that can be transmitted through food or food handling. Visit the Employee Health Policy webpage for more information.

What should I do if I suspect I have a foodborne illness?

You should consult your health care provider for advice on whether medical treatment is necessary. Many foodborne illnesses are short-lived and people recover without any medical treatment. However, it’s always wise to consult a health care provider if you are concerned about the seriousness of your illness. Young children, the elderly and people with poor immune systems are more likely to experience severe illness.

If you see a health care provider, you may be asked to provide a stool specimen for testing. Most commercial laboratories can identify bacterial and parasitic pathogens. There are no approved commercial laboratory tests for most viral pathogens or for chemicals and toxins.

How do I report a foodborne or suspected foodborne illness?

If you believe your illness was caused by eating at a commercial food establishment (restaurant, deli or caterer) complete the Foodborne Illness Complaint Form or contact the Southern Nevada Health District, Office of Epidemiology at (702) 759-1300. Please provide your contact information, so an investigator can follow-up if more information is required.

If you believe your illness was caused by eating prepackaged foods, call the FDA at 1(510) 337-6741.

If you believe your illness was caused by eating meat you purchased at a grocery store and prepared at home, call the USDA at 1(800) 535-4555.

When you call, be prepared to answer some questions. The interview may take 10-15 minutes to complete. You will be asked to provide details about the ill person(s), what they ate during the 72 hours before getting ill, and the symptoms they are experiencing. You will be asked to describe the symptoms, when they started, how long they lasted, and if you were seen by a health care provider. You may also be asked about recent travel, pet ownership and exposure to drinking and recreational water.

Note: If you have questions or concerns about your health you should consult your health care provider.

Will I have to give my name?

You will be asked to give your name and the names, addresses and phone numbers of all ill people. You are not required to give your name. However, the more information you provide, the easier it will be for health district personnel to complete the necessary follow-up and investigation.

All information you provide will be kept strictly confidential. Identity of the person making the report and any ill persons will not be disclosed to others, including the environmental health specialist sent to inspect the facility, the food establishment or to any one else without your permission.

What happens after I file my complaint?

After the complaint is received by the Office of Epidemiology the information is assessed by a Disease Investigation and Intervention Specialist.

If the complaint meets the Southern Nevada Health District’s suspect outbreak definition the complaint(s) will be forwarded to health district’s Environmental Health Division. This division employs the environmental health specialists (restaurant inspectors) who go out to the establishment to conduct an inspection.

The inspector will review their food handling practices, including how the foods you consumed were handled and prepared. Corrective action will be taken on any food facility that is practicing food handling practices that facilitate foodborne illness spread.

What should I do if I’ve consumed adulterated food (containing an insect or other object) prepared at a commercial food establishment that did not make me sick?

Report the incident to Southern Nevada Health District Environmental Health Division at (702) 759-0588.

Where can I get more information?

For additional information on foodborne illness see the following information from the Food and Drug Administration:

Contact Information

(702) 759-1000

Updated on: January 4, 2022

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