Food‐borne illness: responsibilities of food businesses and food handlers

Follow workplace hygiene proceduresIn Queensland each year, many thousands of people suffer from illnesses associated with eating contaminated food. Food businesses and Food Handlers have a responsibility to prevent food borne-illness at their venues. 

The symptoms of a food‐borne illness may include: diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, fever and headaches. A person suffering a food‐borne illness may have one or more of these symptoms. Symptoms are often the same as for gastro‐type illnesses caused by other sources (other people carrying the bacteria, unhygienic surfaces, etc), which can make it difficult to tell if the illness is caused by food or another source of illness. 

The incubation period (the time between eating the food and the appearance of the first symptom) may be as long as 3‐4 days. This means that the last meal consumed may not necessarily be the culprit. The duration of illness (time the symptoms last) may also vary from 1 to 7 days. It is important to note, foods that cause food‐borne illness will not necessarily look, taste or smell any different to safe food.

Many people have mild symptoms and recover within a few days. However,

  • If symptoms persist for more than 3 days, or are very severe, you should seek medical advice

  • You should see a doctor immediately if symptoms include blood or mucus in the diarrhoea

  • People at risk of dehydration, such as infants and the elderly, should be consulted with their local doctor as early as possible

  • People with diarrhoea and vomiting should stay home, have a break from work or school, and drink plenty of fluids 

The Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code requires that Food Handlers should advise their supervisors if they are suffering from symptoms of food‐borne illness. For further information on food handler responsibilities, see the Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) fact sheet Food Safety Standards – Health and hygiene: Responsibilities of food handlers, which can be accessed from the FSANZ website at