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Q & A for the Owner, Manager, or Person In Charge of a Food Establishment

Q: What is the definition of a Foodborne Illness outbreak?

A: A Foodborne Illness outbreak is defined as "the occurrence of two or more cases of a similar illness resulting from the ingestion of a common food."

Q: When should I notify the Health Department about an ill customer or employee?

A: Responsibility of the food worker

"Any person knowingly infected with a disease in a form that is communicable by food handling who handles food products to be consumed by others and any persons knowingly employing or permitting such a person to handle food products to be consumed by others shall be punished as provided by s. 252.25." (Wisconsin State Statutes)

  1. Maintain good personal hygiene, including frequent and thorough hand washing practices.
  2. Practice good food handling procedures.
  3. Notify employers of illness, and exclude self from work when ill with gastrointestinal symptoms (e.g., abdominal cramping, vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice), optimally for 48-72 hours following resolution of symptoms. This may also apply when the food worker has exposed skin lesions.
  4. Fully cooperate with the local health department during investigations of foodborne illness.

Responsibility of the Food Establishment Operator
  1. Train employees and management as to proper food handling practices and hand washing.
  2. Exclude employees with apparent gastrointestinal illness or exposed skin lesions from work.
  3. Avoid practices that punish or discourage employees from reporting illness.
  4. Cooperate with local health department during investigations of foodborne illness.
  5. Provide adequate toilet and hand washing facilities for employees and ensure proper use.

Q: What is the Health Department's Foodborne Illness process?

A: Local health department

"Local health officers may do what is reasonable and necessary for the prevention and suppression of disease;..."
  1. Conduct the initial investigation of a suspected outbreak.
  2. Provide direction to food establishment operators regarding the application and removal of food employee exclusions and restrictions.
  3. Obtain laboratory specimens, conduct interviews, compile line lists, record onset times and other important epidemiologic data.
  4. Provide education to food workers regarding proper food handling and personal hygiene.
  5. Establish a point of contact (P.O.C.)

The procedure for the investigation and determination of the existence of an outbreak is reasonably standard regardless of the disease being investigated. The steps listed below are not sequential and some contingency planning can be done before an outbreak. The steps in this procedure include:

  • preparation for a detailed epidemiologic investigation
  • establish the existence of an outbreak or epidemic
  • verify diagnosis
  • formulate a tentative hypothesis
  • put control measures into operation
  • conduct the investigation
  • relate the outbreak to time, place and person
  • analyze and interpret data
  • test hypothesis and formulate conclusions
  • prepare a final report of the investigation

Q: What can I do to assist with the investigation?

A: Steps to Take if an Outbreak is Suspected
  1. Call the local health department as soon as possible.
  2. Exclude all ill employees.
  3. If the outbreak is tied to a specific event (e.g. a special event meal), collect the following:
    • a list of employees who prepared food for or worked at the event and their duties
    • menu for the event
    • other records from the event, such as temperature logs
    • employee illness reports for the week preceding the event
  4. The local health department will make arrangements to begin interviews of staff and people who ate the meal, collect clinical samples from ill individuals, and advise further control measures.

Steps to Take if an Outbreak is Suspected (PDF)

Key Contacts
If you think you got sick eating food, call:
(608) 266-4821
or use our
Online Complaint Form