What to do if a patron alleges food poisoning

Do you know what to do if a patron says they have food poisoning?As a food handler you have a responsibility to ensure that patrons do not become sick from eating at your venue. So what happens if someone contacts your food business to report or complain that they think your food made them sick?

You should reassure the person that your business takes their complaint very seriously and that you need to write down some details, so that the incident can be investigated properly. Do not become apologetic, defensive or indicate to the person that your food may be at fault. This can only be determined by a proper investigation, supported by laboratory tests.

After the patron has notified you that they believe food from your business made them ill, you should obtain and record the following details from the patron:

  • time and date that the report or complaint was made
  • name, address and contact details of person reporting the illness
  • how many people are allegedly ill
  • time/date food was eaten at your establishment or function
  • what foods were eaten
  • what food(s) the person suspects caused their illness
  • whether or not any suspected food remains in the possession of the complainant

Please remember that the patron is not required to provide any of the above information. If they choose to answer the questions, you should treat all information in the strictest confidence.

After receiving information from a patron regarding alleged food poisoning, you should immediately inform your supervisor or proprietor of the food business of the details of the incident. The supervisor or proprietor should satisfy themselves that the person who received the advice of the alleged food‐borne illness, has recorded all the necessary information.

 The supervisor or proprietor should ascertain if any of the food suspected to have caused the illness remains on their premises. If so, all suspected food remaining should be hygienically contained, labelled as ‘suspected unsafe food’ and placed under refrigeration, separate from other food. If Queensland Health investigates, an environmental health officer will advise you what is to be done with this food.

If more than two people allege they became ill after eating at your premises, you should contact the nearest Queensland Health Public Health Unit to report the incident.

Whether or not your business decides to compensate the complainant in any way, is completely a business management decision. Be aware that this may be considered by the consumer as an admission of liability.

As a food handler it is not your job to conduct the investigation just to ensure that you take all the necessary information, treat the patron with courtesy and respect and forward that information in confidence to your manager or supervisor.