FAQs: Food Safety

If I get a customer call about food poisoning, what do I say?

I assume the customer either ‘thinks’ they have a food poisoning due to various symptoms they are experiencing, or ‘they have’ a foodborne infection/poisoning as verified by a health care professional/lab? Common symptoms could include abdominal pain, headache, nausea, vomiting, fever, diarrhea among other things. Verification may involve testing of a blood, urine or stool sample by a medical lab confirming the infection or intoxication caused by a physical, chemical or biological contaminate.

  • First – ‘never admit guilt’. We do not know the ongoing health and wellness of the customer, some customers may have sensitivities or even allergens to ingredients used in the preparation of food, that we are not aware of; and as some of the harmful bacteria (pathogens) that may be in food can incubate in the digestive system for hours, days or even weeks before the onset of systems, we just don’t know. In other words the customer may have been carrying the harmful substance for some time before the onset of symptoms and when the symptoms of foodborne illness occur we tend to think the source is where we last ate.
  • Second – complete a written incident report including the customer’s contact information, the date and time of their visit, what foods they consumed while at the establishment, what symptoms are they experiencing and when did the symptoms of their illness first occur after leaving the establishment. If any of food that the customer ate is still available for service, immediately take it out of service, label it ‘not to be served’ and hold it in isolation for possible inspection by the health inspector.
  • Third – advise the customer to get medical attention ASAP if the customer hasn’t already done so. A confirmed foodborne illness that goes untreated can lead to serious medical conditions – even death.
  • Fourth – with the incident report in-hand report all information as you know it to your health inspector or health board. We are foodservice operators and they are medical officers of health. When it comes to a reported foodborne illness they are the professionals and they will appreciate your assistance in helping them to do their jobs.
  • Fifth – follow the health inspector’s advise. A reported and/or confirmed case of foodborne illness is more common than you may think. There are a host of reasons as to why this occurs and as many ways to help prevent this from happening. Always insure the food safety practices in your business meets or exceeds regulatory requirements.
  • Always remember as foodservice operators when it comes to foodborne illness ‘lives are in our hands’. We are the last line of defense in the food supply chain – from the producer of the food to the consumer of the food – and it is our responsibility to insure we always serve safe food. It could be a matter of our very business survival.
    Can customers bring their own food to events?

    The quick answer is NO !

    As a commercial or institutional foodservice operation we are required to purchase and use only federally and provincially/territorially inspected, commercially processed foods. Never use homemade and home-canned foods. The only exception to this requirement may be for a customer who has special dietary and healthcare needs and as such wants to bring their own food for their own consumption. Before allowing this to occur, consult with your health inspector for guidance and approval.