Washington State University
Environmental Health & Safety EH&S Factsheets

Foodborne Illness: Prevention and Reporting


Foodborne Illness Outbreak

The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) defines a foodborne illness outbreak as “two or more persons experiencing a similar illness after ingestion of a common food or meal AND the food or meal is implicated as the illness source by:

  • epidemiologic evaluation OR
  • laboratory evidence (identify agent in a food source) OR
  • other supportive information (i.e. field investigation, ill food workers, etc.)

Incidence of Foodborne Illness

Nationwide, restaurants will provide more than 70 billion meals and snacks in 2004, and billions more are served at home and social events. Unfortunately, many people do not think about food safety until a food-related illness affects them or a family member. While the food supply in the United States is one of the safest in the world, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 76 million people get sick, more than 300,000 are hospitalized, and more than 5,000 Americans die each year from foodborne illness. Preventing foodborne illness and death remains a major public health challenge for home food preparation, as well as at restaurants.

Reporting Foodborne Illness

Any suspected cases of foodborne illness should be reported by the individual (or their family/friends/coworkers etc.) directly to Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S).
If you have difficulty contacting EH&S, contact your local county health department (Whitman County, 509-332-6752 or 397-6280), or the Washington State DOH consumer hotline at 360-236-3330 or 1-800-525-0127.

Food Service Establishment Response

The Washington State DOH requires food service owners / operators to immediately contact EH&S and report any complaints or incidence of a foodborne illness. ALSO, any food items that may be suspect are to be removed from sale and refrigerated until released by the health officer.

EH&S Response

When EH&S or the health officer suspects that a food service establishment (or its employees) may be a source of a foodborne illness, EH&S and the health officer shall take appropriate actions to control transmission of the disease. EH&S will work closely with county health departments and the Washington State DOH in all investigations of a foodborne illness. The actions can include any or all of the following.

  • Secure all records that may help identify individuals who may have been exposed, or require assistance in locating these individuals
  • Secure the illness history of suspected employees
  • Exclude any suspected employee(s) from working in a food service establishment until the health officer determines there is no further risk.
  • Suspend the permit of the food service establishment until the health officer determines there is no further risk.
  • Restrict the work activities of any sick employee(s)
  • Require medical and laboratory exams of food service establishment’s employees
  • Obtain laboratory testing of any suspect foods
  • Require the destruction of any suspect foods or prevent it from being served
  • The health officer will prohibit food service workers with a communicable illness from handling food if the infectious agent can be transmitted via food.

Top 10 Reasons for an Outbreak

  1. Bare-hand contact with food
  2. Improper hand washing or glove use
  3. Food handled by sick worker
  4. Contaminated raw ingredients/cross contamination of food
  5. Insufficient temp hot holding of food
  6. Insufficient heating / reheating
  7. frac12; day or more food prep time
  8. Slow cooling of food
  9. Room temperature storage of food
  10. Inadequate utensil cleaning

Getting Assistance

For additional information about foodborne illness, contact the EH&S Public Health program at 335-3041.