Foodborne Illness

Foodborne illnesses - sometimes called food poisoning - can affect anyone. Some people only have a mild sickness, but others have life-threatening symptoms. People with weakened immune systems, like the elderly, young, or pregnant people, are at greater risk of getting sick. You can reduce your risk of getting sick from food with good hygiene and safe food handling practices.

  • Common symptoms of foodborne illness are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, or bloody poop. Symptoms usually take between 12 hours to 3 days to appear.
  • If symptoms like diarrhea last longer than 48 hours, you should see a health care provider for treatment and testing.
  • If you work in food service, child care, or health care, you should not go to work until at least 24 hours after your symptoms go away.
  • Some foodborne illnesses are also spread by a sick person. To avoid getting others sick, wash your hands very well after using the bathroom. Do not handle food until at least 24 hours after your symptoms go away.
  • We investigate cases of foodborne illness. If you think you might be sick from food you ate at a restaurant or other food service establishment, contact us at 360-778-6000 or email the Food Safety program


Causes of Foodborne Illness

Every year in the U.S., 48 million people get sick from food and 3,000 people die from foodborne illnesses. Foodborne illnesses are actually over 250 different diseases and can be caused by toxins, chemicals, bacteria, viruses, and parasites.

Foodborne illness might be caused by:

  • A sick food worker handling food without using gloves or barriers, or not washing their hands well.
  • Food contaminated with a chemical or toxin.
  • Food not cooled quickly enough or not reheated well enough.
  • Food that is left out too long at room temperature.


Reporting an Illness

We investigate cases of foodborne illness. If you think you might be sick from food you ate at a restaurant or other food service establishment, we want to hear from you. We follow up by asking questions to find out the source of the illness. If necessary, we take further steps to prevent other people from becoming sick.

Contact us at 360-778-6000 or email the Food Safety Program to report a foodborne illness.


Don’t Get Sick: Practice Food Safety

You can reduce your risk of getting sick from the food you eat by practicing safe food handling. Follow these essential food safety tips:

  • Avoid cross-contaminating food or utensils. Cross-contamination happens when you touch raw food - like meat or fish - that contains harmful bacteria and then touch food that won’t be cooked - like greens for a salad. Someone might get sick if cooked or uncooked foods, plates, utensils, cutting boards, or other surfaces are contaminated.
  • Fully cook raw foods to kill bacteria or other germs. Germs that cause sickness aren’t killed if the food is not fully cooked. Find out the proper cooking temperatures for foods.
  • Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Bacteria grow well in the "Danger Zone" between 41 and 135 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep foods either above or below those temperatures so that bacteria or other germs can’t grow. Generally, most foods are still safe to eat for up to 4 hours at room temperature.
  • Wash your hands well with soap and hot water after using the bathroom, touching raw meat or fish, or touching your mouth, face, or another surface that could be contaminated.


Person-to-Person Illness

Some foodborne illnesses are also passed from person to person. Highly contagious diseases - like norovirus - can easily spread to people who live together, work in the same place, or eat food touched by a person who is sick.

If you are sick with a foodborne illness, you can reduce the chance of getting others sick by:

  • Not preparing food for other people until at least 24 hours after symptoms go away.
  • Washing your hands well after using the bathroom.
  • Avoid sharing a bathroom, if possible. After symptoms go away, clean the bathroom well and then sanitize with a bleach-water solution.

If symptoms of foodborne illness - especially diarrhea - last longer than 3 days, see your health care provider to get treated and tested for foodborne illness.

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