Foodborne Illness

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Epidemiology and Informatics
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    The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) monitors foodborne illness cases and outbreaks across the state of Nebraska through the use of a public health surveillance system.

    DHHS collaborates with many partners such as hospitals, clinics, laboratories, local, state, and federal partners to detect, investigate, control, and report foodborne disease cases and outbreaks.

    What is Foodborne Illness?

    Foodborne illness (food poisoning) is caused by consuming contaminated food, beverages, or water and can be a variety of bacteria, parasites, viruses and/or toxins. Many of these pathogens can be acquired through more than just food, beverages, or water. They may be acquired through person-to-person spread, animal contact, the environment, and recreational or drinking water.

    Symptoms of Foodborne Illness

    The incubation period (the time between exposure to the pathogen and onset of symptoms) may begin within hours after being exposed or may begin days later. Common symptoms of foodborne illness are:

    • Diarrhea
    • Vomiting
    • Nausea
    • Stomach cramps
    • Fever
    • Fatigue
       

    Causes of Foodborne Illness

    Who is at risk of a foodborne illness?

    Everyone is at risk of getting a foodborne illness. However, some people are at a greater risk of becoming seriously ill or even dying from a foodborne illness:

    • Infants
    • Young children
    • Pregnant women and their unborn babies
    • Older adults
    • People with chronic disease and/or weakened immune systems
       

    What can you do to protect yourself from foodborne illness?

    A few simple steps can reduce the risk of foodborne diseases:

    Clean

    • Wash your hands for at least 20 second with soap and water.
    • Wash surfaces and utensils after each use.
    • Wash fruits and vegetables, but not meat, poultry or eggs.

    Separate

    • Avoid cross-contaminating foods.
    • Use separate cutting boards and plates for produce, meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs.

    Cook

    • Cook meat, poultry and eggs thoroughly.
    • Use a thermometer to measure the internal temperature of meat. A meat thermometer is a good way to be sure that you cooked meat enough to kill bacteria.

    Chill

    • Refrigerate leftovers immediately. Bacteria can grow quickly at room temperature, so refrigerate leftover foods if no one will eat them within 2 hours.
    • For large volumes of food, split them into several shallow containers. When you refrigerate them, they will cool more quickly.

    Other Resources

    Frequently Asked Questions

    How do I report a food safety concern or complaint about a food product or a restaurant?

    If you live in or the restaurant is located in Lancaster County, please contact Lancaster County Local Health Department at (402) 441-6280.

    If you live in or the restaurant is located in Douglas County, please contact Douglas County Health Department at (402) 444-7480.

    If you live in or the restaurant is located in Hall, Hamilton, or Merrick County, please contact Central District Health Department at (308) 385-5175.

    For all other counties, please contact Nebraska Department of Agriculture (NDA) Food Safety and Consumer Protection at (402) 471-3422.

    If I am experiencing illness, should I still go to work?

    No. If you are experiencing diarrhea, vomiting, or have a fever, you should not work. You should be symptom free for at least 24 hours before returning to work. Working while sick increases the risk of spreading illness to others.

    If you are a food handler and experiencing illness or have a diagnosis from your doctor, you must report to your manager and follow proper exclusions as stated in the Nebraska Food Code.

    Is the 'stomach flu' and the 'flu' the same thing?

    The 'stomach flu' or 'stomach bug' is usually caused by Norovirus. The 'flu' is caused by Influenza.

    I think I have foodborne illness, was it the last food item I ate?

    A common misunderstanding is that gastrointestinal illness was caused by the last food item that was eaten before symptoms started. While there are a few pathogens in which gastrointestinal illness may cause illness within a few hours of being exposed, many foodborne illnesses have incubation periods that range from several hours to several days or weeks.

    How do I report a foodborne illness?

    1. Report your illness to your Local Public Health Department or Nebraska DHHS Office of Epidemiology (402) 471-2937. Reporting illnesses helps identify potential foodborne illness outbreaks.
    2. Seek medical care if symptoms continue or are severe (such as bloody diarrhea, excessive nausea and vomiting, or a fever).

    What is a foodborne illness outbreak?

    A foodborne illness outbreak is defined as two or more illnesses caused by the same germ (bacteria, parasite, virus, or toxin) and share a common exposure.

    What settings can foodborne illness outbreaks occur?

    Foodborne illness outbreaks can occur in a variety of settings including, but not limited to: a restaurant meal, church potluck, wedding, catered meal, concert/festival and/or a store bought food product (i.e. prepackaged romaine lettuce).

    Who investigates foodborne illness outbreaks?

    Foodborne illness outbreaks require a team effort between the public, local health departments, DHHS, physicians, hospitals, laboratories, and regulatory agencies.

    How is a foodborne illness outbreak investigated?

    There are many steps involved in a foodborne outbreak investigation.

    1. Detect a possible outbreak through public health surveillance.
    2. Find cases.
    3. Generate a hypotheses through interviews.
    4. Test hypotheses through studies and laboratory testing.
    5. Solve point of contamination and original source of outbreak vehicle.
    6. Control outbreak through recalls, facility improvements, and industry collaboration.
    7. Decide an outbreak is over.
    Office of Epidemiology
    Division of Public Health/ Department of Health & Human Services
    Phone Number
    (402) 471-2937
    Fax Number
    (402) 471-3601
    Mailing Address
    DHHS, Office of Epidemiology
    P.O. Box 95026, Lincoln, Nebraska 68509-5026