My Meal Detective: How To Report Foodborne Illness

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What is My Meal Detective?

Contact DoctorIf you suspect that more than one person has become ill after eating a common food, please contact your local health department. You can also log onto MyMealDetective.com to file an online foodborne illness report.

My Meal Detective is an online reporting system that allows you to file a foodborne illness report when events surrounding your illness are fresh on your mind. When you think something you ate made you sick (and possibly others), fill out all of the questions completely to capture as much information as possible to send to your local health department. The health department will examine your report, investigate if needed, and capture real-time information about what is going on in your community.

What information do I need to provide?

Your local health department will need basic information to begin the investigation. As with any detective work, information that answers the who, what, when, where, and how questions will be important when investigating the culprit of your illness and to determine whether or not a foodborne outbreak has occurred. The more information we get, the faster we can solve your case! Keep these questions in mind when you report your suspected foodborne illness:

  • How many people are sick?
  • What are the symptoms of illness?
  • When did the illness begin and how long did it last?
  • Are people still becoming sick?
  • What did the ill people eat?
  • How many people were potentially exposed?

Additionally, when a foodborne illness outbreak is first suspected, the germ that caused people to become sick is likely unknown. The identification of that germ by laboratory testing is a critical piece of the puzzle that will help focus the investigation. If you are ill with symptoms that you believe may be associated with an outbreak, it is recommended you see your doctor so that samples (like a stool specimen) can be collected for laboratory testing; alternatively, your health department may request to collect specimens from you. To learn more about foodborne disease causing germs, please browse our foodborne disease data page, which provides a list of fact sheets on many foodborne illness germs.

A note on the “last meal bias”

People often associate their illness with the last food or meal that they consumed. While there are some germs (particularly toxins) that cause illness to develop quickly after consuming contaminated food items (as short as 30 minutes), there are many foodborne illnesses that can take up to 72 hours (3 days) or longer to develop. When thinking about what might have caused you to become ill, it is helpful to review the food items that you have eaten over the last several days.

What happens when I file a Foodborne Illness Report?

Safety TipsOnce you hit submit, the report will be sent to your local health department. There, they will view the report and follow-up with you if there are any further questions. After they gather all the information necessary, our expert Environmental Health Specialists will decide the course of action. If warranted, they will visit the food establishment you suspect made you sick to check for safe food handling practices. Additionally, they will look for trends in other foodborne illness reports to see if there are commonalities that might suggest an outbreak has occurred. The goal is to get the information quickly from you, the consumer, and act quickly to prevent others from becoming sick.