October 20, 2014

From the Mail Bag: What To Do if You Think You Have Food Poisoning

  • Food Safety

By InstantLabs

By Lauren Bambusch


I feel like I might have contracted food poisoning.  Can I send you a sample to test?

Catonsville, MD

Hi Jonelle,

We get calls all the time from citizens who feel that they may have contracted food poisoning asking if we can test the food they ate.  Unfortunately, that’s not what we do here at InstantLabs.  We help food producers ensure that their food is safe before it even hits the consumer market.  However, the Baltimore City Health Department helped us to put together an action plan for those who feel like they might have food poisoning:

  1. See a doctor: You will want to see a doctor immediately, and tell them you suspect food poisoning.  They may want to take stool samples; this will help them more accurately diagnose your illness (which can mean a quicker recovery for you), as well as help the local health department track illnesses across the city, state, or country.
  2. Call your local health department: Most people have the option of calling their city, county, or state health departments.  In general, the Baltimore City Health Department advised us to call the most regional department first—i.e. the city’s department of health before the state’s department of health.  If necessary, the city or county health department can forward your case up to the larger health departments.  You can find your local health department here. When you call to log a potential outbreak, please have as much of the following information as you can at hand:

    • A listing of what you ate, where you ate it, who prepared it, and when you ate it going back as far as you can remember.  If the food was prepared at home, catalog what brands of each food was used in the preparation, if possible.
    • What those who were with you ate, and if they also got sick (even information from those who didn’t get sick is helpful to rule items out).
    • Your exact symptoms, and when they started manifesting.  If the food poisoning has passed, also tell them how long the symptoms lasted.
    • If you went to the doctor, tell them the doctor’s name, if they took a stool sample, and the doctor’s diagnosis.
    • Contact information in the event of follow up questions.
  3. Rest and get better: Now all that’s left to do is get back on your feet.

Even if you can’t remember all of the information from the list above, Baltimore City Health Department tells us that any little bit helps when it comes to tracking down foodborne outbreaks.

We at InstantLabs hope you never have a need for this information, and are working tirelessly to make America’s food supply safer by providing food producers with fast, reliable, and validated test solutions.  But if you do fear you might have food poisoning, fast treatment and reporting is the key to stopping outbreaks when they’re in their infancy.

Lauren Bambusch is a microbiologist by trade as well as a writer and baker by hobby. She lives in Baltimore with her husband, three cats, a super-sized mutt, and a school of fish, all of whom root for her Alma mater, Michigan State. Go Green!