What is a Foodborne Illness and Other Questions Answered

As a Food Handler or Manager, you constantly hear about the importance of following the correct food safety procedures to prevent foodborne illnesses. But at some point, you may have wondered why it is so important to prevent foodborne illnesses.

Here are the basics to understanding the impact of foodborne illnesses and why we put such an emphasis on food safety.

What is a foodborne illness?

According to the World Health Organization, foodborne illnesses are diseases caused by eating food contaminated by bacteria, viruses, parasites, or chemicals.

There are over 200 identified foodborne diseases, but the most common are known as the Big 6—Salmonella, Typhoid, E. coli, Norovirus, and Hepatitis A.

How do contaminants get into food and cause a foodborne illness?

Food can be contaminated at any stage of production, delivery, or consumption.

Foodborne illnesses can be prevented by implementing safe food handling practices, which is why food safety training is so important for everyone working in the food industry.

Who is impacted by foodborne illnesses?

The CDC estimates that 48 million people contract a foodborne illness each year in the United States, with 128,000 hospitalized and 3,000 deaths.

Anyone can get a foodborne illness, but the most at-risk groups include:

  •          The elderly
  •          Young children
  •          Immunocompromised or those with preexisting conditions
  •          Pregnant women

What are the symptoms of foodborne illnesses?

Symptoms vary between different foodborne illnesses, but here are the most common symptoms:

  •          Upset stomach or stomach cramps
  •          Nausea and vomiting
  •          Diarrhea
  •          Fever

When should I see a doctor?

Most foodborne illnesses just take time. However, you should see a doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:

  •          Bloody diarrhea
  •          Fever over 102°F
  •          Frequent vomiting
  •          Signs of dehydration
  •          Diarrhea lasting for more than 3 days


Remember, prevention is best when it comes to tackling foodborne illnesses. Learn more about preventing foodborne illnesses by taking our Food Handler and Food Protection Manager training.

What to Do If Someone Has an Allergic Reaction in Your Restaurant

Each year, around 200,000 people in the United States need emergency medical care after an allergic reaction to food. Hopefully, this doesn’t happen, but an allergic reaction could happen in your restaurant.

Prevention is key, but knowing what to do if a severe allergic reaction does occur is also important for keeping everyone safe.

The following goes over symptoms of a severe allergic reaction and how to respond if one does occur.

Train Staff on Food Allergies

Prevention is better than cure, and proper allergen awareness training can prevent allergic reactions from happening in the first place. The more educated your staff is on topics such as common food allergens and allergen cross-contact, the more you can avoid a serious allergic reaction from happening in your restaurant.

Symptoms of a Severe Allergic Reaction

Anaphylaxis is a severe reaction to an allergen and can be life threatening if not treated properly. Symptoms include:

  •          Low blood pressure
  •          Hives
  •          Swelling of face, lips, tongue, or throat
  •          Dizziness or fainting
  •          Nausea or vomiting
  •          Weak and rapid pulse
  •          Constricted airways causing wheezing and problems breathing

Call 911

The first thing you should do if someone is experiencing any signs of anaphylaxis is call 911 immediately. If they have a history of anaphylaxis, even if they are not experiencing symptoms, they should make a trip to the emergency room. Do this before anything else.

If they are dining alone, it might be a good idea to try to get in touch with an emergency contact, if possible.

Use an Epinephrine Autoinjector

People with a severe allergy should carry at least one epinephrine autoinjector at all times. Administer at the first signs of anaphylaxis by injecting the shot into their outer thigh.

The epinephrine cannot harm them if it is unnecessarily administered, so if you are unsure of whether it is needed, it is better to just go ahead and inject it. Don’t wait for symptoms to worsen.

What to do after

Even if the symptoms are mild or have stopped, they should go to the nearest hospital in case the symptoms return or worsen.


Get your staff educated about food allergies by having them take our Allergen Awareness course.

Dress for Success: How Clothing Affects Food Safety

Looking clean and presentable is not just about making a good impression on customers.

We know that cross-contamination can be caused by not sanitizing surfaces or not washing your hands, but did you know that cross-contamination can also occur by transferring bacteria from dirty clothing?

Although it’s still important to maintain a good appearance for customers, being clean and presentable also prevents spreading pathogenic bacteria onto the food you are preparing.

Here is how you should handle clothing in order to maintain personal hygiene standards and dress for (food safety) success!

Wear Clean, Undamaged Clothing

Wear clean uniforms at the beginning of each shift and change if necessary. Do not wear damaged garments.

Wash Uniforms After Use

Dirty uniforms should be washed after they are used, before they are used again. Be sure to store dirty uniforms separately from clean ones.

Keep Aprons and Uniforms in Food Prep Area

When leaving the food prep area, leave your apron or uniform to prevent contaminating it with outside bacteria. There should be a designated spot for this.

In addition, outside clothing should be kept out of the food prep area. Again, there should be a designated area for this purpose.

Change Single-Use Disposable Gloves Frequently

When wearing single-use disposable gloves, change them frequently. For example, change them between tasks and when leaving the food prep area.

Don’t Wear Jewelry and Nail Polish

Don’t wearing jewelry while handling food. Bacteria can be hiding under the jewelry and make its way into the food. The exception is a plain band.

Nail polish is not allowed, as it can chip off and get into the food you are preparing. Acrylic nails are not permitted as well.

Wear Proper Head Coverings

Wear a clean hat or other hair covering. Hair coverings ensure that loose hair does not fall into the food. Long hair should be tied or put back to avoid hair falling out.


Want to learn more ways to prevent cross-contamination in your restaurant? Check out our Food Protection Manager training course.

Symptoms of Food Poisoning: How to Spot a Foodborne Illness

Each year, an estimated 48 million people get sick from a foodborne illness, with 128,000 hospitalized and 3,000 deaths. This is why, as food handlers, being knowledgeable about food safety is so important—it can save lives.

Knowing the symptoms of a foodborne illness is just as important to food safety as knowing how to prevent them. Learn what these symptoms are, as well as what to do if you get food poisoning.

Common Symptoms of Foodborne Illnesses

There are over 250 identified foodborne diseases, and although they are all different, they tend to have similar symptoms, ranging from mild to severe. These include:

  •        Upset stomach
  •        Abdominal pain
  •        Nausea
  •        Vomiting
  •        Diarrhea
  •        Fever

There are six main foodborne illnesses, known as the Big 6. Learn about what they are and more specific symptoms.

Signs to See a Doctor

Foodborne illnesses can have serious symptoms. The CDC says to seek medical attention if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms:

  •        Bloody diarrhea
  •        High fever (over 102°F)
  •        Frequent vomiting
  •        Signs of dehydration
  •        Diarrhea that lasts more than 3 days.

If You Are Experiencing Foodborne Illness Symptoms

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms, do the following:

Stay hydrated

Diarrhea and vomiting can cause dehydration. Be sure to slowly be drinking fluids to prevent this from happening.

Don’t come into work

Food handlers should not go to work if they are experiencing these symptoms. You can risk passing a foodborne illness along to your customers through the food you are preparing for them.

Report foodborne illness

If you contract a foodborne illness, even if you are not sure where it came from, report it to your local health department. Reporting it can help identify a foodborne illness outbreak and keep others from getting sick.


Learn more about foodborne illnesses and how to prevent them by taking out Food Handler training.

How to Properly Wash Your Hands

Personal hygiene is an important element of food safety, and handwashing might just be the most essential step. Handwashing prevents you from getting sick, and also from passing on sickness, such as a foodborne illness.

Even though handwashing is an important step in preventing the spread of foodborne illnesses, a study by the USDA found that 97% of consumers are not properly washing their hands in the kitchen, which in turn lead to bacteria being transferred to other surfaces in the kitchen through cross-contamination.

As a food handler, you need to know when and how to properly wash your hands in order to prevent cross-contamination. Follow these steps to ensure you are correctly washing your hands and removing harmful bacteria that could harm yourself or your customers.

When Should I Wash My Hands?

You should be washing your hands before, after, and during handling food. You should also wash your hands after tasks such as:

  •          After using the bathroom
  •          After blowing your nose, coughing, sneezing
  •          After taking out the garbage
  •          After handling raw foods
  •          After a break
  •          After handling money or receipts
  •          After touching clothing, hair, or face

Use your best judgement. If you think you should wash your hands after completing a certain task but are unsure, you probably should just wash them.

How Should I Wash My Hands?

The CDC recommends to wash your hands using the following steps:

  1.        Wet your hands with clean water and apply soap
  2.        Lather the soap
  3.        Scrub your hands for 20 seconds and make sure to get the back of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails
  4.        Rinse off the soap under clean running water
  5.        Dry your hands with a clean single use towel or hand dryer

What About Hand Sanitizer?

Using soap and water is the best way to get rid of germs on your hands. However, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is acceptable if soap and water are not available, just make sure that the hand sanitizer contains at least 60% alcohol. Just keep in mind that hand sanitizers do not get rid of all germs, and they are not as effective if hands are dirty or greasy.


Learn more about preventing the spread of foodborne illness by completing our Food Handlers training.

Types of Food Hazards and How to Prevent Them

Cross-contamination is a major food safety risk. Without safe food handling practices, storage procedures, personal hygiene, and cleaning, contaminants can get into the food you serve, causing foodborne illnesses or allergic reactions.

But what causes food contamination?

Learn more about what hazards can come into contact with food and cause it to become contaminated, and what are the best practices for preventing contamination.

Pathogenic Bacterial Contamination (aka Cross-Contamination)

When most people are talking about cross-contamination, they are talking about spreading pathogenic bacteria onto food that could make someone sick.

Best Practices

Be sure to clean and sanitize all equipment, utensils, and surfaces between tasks and after prepping raw food. Also, raw food separately from ready-to-eat products.


Chemical Contamination

Chemical contamination can occur if raw food are contaminated with chemicals. Contamination can also occur if cleaning chemicals are misused, not rinsed off properly, or used in the wrong concentration.


  •          Rust from an opened metal tin in the refrigerator
  •          Cleaning product coming into contact with food

Best Practice

All chemicals should be stored in a separate cupboard away from the food area. Never transfer chemicals to other non-marked containers. Another best practice it to follow the manufacturers instructions for using each chemical.


Physical Contamination

Physical contamination occurs when a foreign object falls onto or into food. No one wants to find a band-aid in their food, but physical contamination can also contain pathogenic bacteria that could cause a foodborne illness.


There are many physical hazards that could lead to contamination, but some examples include:

  •          Hair
  •          Glass
  •          Bandages
  •          String
  •          Plastic
  •          Bird droppings
  •          Dead insects

Best Practice

Always unpack food in a separate area away from food prep areas to reduce the risk of physical contamination from the packaging.

Also, Bug Zappers should ideally be placed near external doors. They should not be located close to open food, as dead insects could drop on the foods and contaminate it.


Allergen Cross-Contact

Allergen cross-contact occurs when an allergen’s proteins come into contact with another food and mix. Unlike pathogenic bacteria, an allergen’s proteins cannot be cooked off, and even the smallest traces of could cause an allergic reaction.

Best Practices

Store common allergens separately from other foods and be sure to clean and sanitize surfaces and equipment. If an allergen accidentally comes in contact when preparing an allergen free meal, do not try picking it out and serve the meal. Remember, once the proteins come into contact with the dish, they cannot be cooked out and can still cause an allergic reaction.


Learn more about preventing contamination by taking our Food Handlers, Allergen Awareness, and Food Proctection Manager training.

How Proctors Are Getting People Their Food Protection Manager Certificates During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic forced many things to become virtual—including test taking. Remotely proctored food protection manager exams have now become extremely popular.

However, even with the pandemic still ongoing, in-person proctors have still found ways to safely get people their food manager certifications.

COVID-19 precautions are set in place, such as limited class sizes, spacing out students, wearing masks, and temperature checks.

The pandemic has made safety training, including food safety training, more relevant and important than ever. It has brought to light the importance of proper training in order to keep customers and workers safe.

Read more about how Always Food Safe proctor Linda Petterson is getting students their food protection manager certification during the pandemic.

Whether you want to take the food protection manager exam in-person or online, Always Food Safe will get you certified. Learn more about our Food Protection Manager training & certification.

Valentine's Day Food Safety: How to Avoid A Valentine's Day Disaster

Valentine’s Day is a holiday where many people chose to dine out. When it comes to dining out, there is always a risk of foodborne illness.

Foodborne illness is an effective way to ruin an otherwise perfect Valentine’s day evening.

Whether you are dining in or dining out, we are here to help you have a good Valentine’s Day—one that does not include contracting a foodborne illness.

Follow these tips to safely dine out or dine in this Valentine’s Day.

Dining Out

Properly vet the restaurant

Before making a reservation, be sure to properly vet the restaurant to make sure they are always food safe. Look at the reviews, which can include health inspection scores, as well as if they have some sort of proof that their staff is food safety trained.

And if the restaurant doesn’t look clean or you see any red flags, you can always leave and find somewhere else.

Skip the raw oysters

Raw oysters are a classic Valentine’s Day dish, but beware. Raw oysters could be contaminated with foodborne pathogens, leading to an unpleasant night for both of you. Consider skipping the raw oysters this Valentine’s Day.

Be sure food is fully cooked

When you food is served, make sure that it is hot and everything is thoroughly cooked through so that pathogenic bacteria are reduced to a safe level.

Get your leftovers in the fridge fast

Leaving food out for too long allows pathogenic bacteria to multiply to dangerous levels. It is recommended that you get your leftovers in the fridge within 2 hours of it being served. If you get a doggie bag, get it in the fridge as soon as you get home.

Dining In

Meal kits

This year, many restaurants are offering take home Valentine’s Day boxes, either already made or a meal kit for you to prepare yourself.

If the food is already made and ready to go, make sure any hot food is still hot when it is picked up or delivered, then consume as soon as possible to prevent the food from cooling down and entering the temperature danger zone, between 40°F - 140°F, where pathogenic bacteria can multiply to dangerous levels.

If you are responsible for preparing the meal, be sure to follow safe food handling practices when cooking it up.

Be sure meat is thoroughly cooked

Making steaks this Valentine’s Day? When cooking meat, make sure that it is cooked to its minimum recommended internal temperature, using a thermometer to check.

Don’t leave your meal sitting out

Once you are both done eating, don’t just leave the food sit out. Get the leftovers in the fridge as soon as you can, at least within 2 hours of when it was served.

How to Safely Serve Food at a Socially Distanced Outdoor Gathering

2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic has limited the amount of contact we have with those we care about.  

The safest way to socialize is virtually, but a low-risk way to see people is at a small, socially distanced outdoor gathering.

There is no evidence that COVID-19 is spread through food, but congregating around food or sharing utensils poses a risk of passing along COVID. In order to safely serve food at a socially distance outdoor gathering, you need to avoid creating situations where people congregate or have to share a utensil in addition to your typical safe food handling practices.

If you are planning on hosting a socially distanced outdoor gathering, first of all, listen to your state and local COVID-19 regulations, and follow CDC guidelines and recommendations. Additionally, if you or anyone in your household is feeling ill or had an exposure to someone with COVID, cancel the event, and encourage your guests not to attend if they have symptoms or a possible exposure.

But if state and local regulations allow it, cases in your area are low, and no one from your household is sick or had a possible exposure, here are some tips for serving food in a way that encourages social distancing, as well as food safety tips to prevent spreading another sickness—foodborne illnesses.

CDC Resources

The best source for preventing the spread of COVID-19 is the CDC. Here are some resources from the CDC that can help your outdoor gathering be as safe as possible.

When You’re Not Eating, Wear A Mask

The most important thing to remember is that even though you’re outside, you should still be wearing your mask and staying 6 feet apart. You can still spread the virus while you are outdoors. Encourage your guests only to take their mask off while they are eating and to keep a 6 foot distance between each other.

Set Up Tables and Chairs to Allow Social Distancing

Don’t cluster tables and chairs together, forcing your guests to get close to one another. Set them up 6 feet apart and have one household sit per table.

Have Guests Bring Their Own Food and Drink

Having your guests bring their own food and beverages to your outdoor gathering will reduce the amount of contact between you and your guests.

Limit Food Prep and Serving to One or Two People

If you do decide to serve your guests food, limit food prep and serving to one or two people, to make sure there are not multiple people trying to prepare food in a condensed area.

Have one person serve the food so that your guests are not all handling the serving utensils.

Serve Single Serving Food

Don’t serve any food that encourages congregating. This means skipping the chips and dip. Food that is easy to serve in individual portions is best.

Grilling hamburgers or hot dogs, a classic outdoor activity, is a great option, among many other foods. Grilling food also keeps you outside, instead of having a bunch of people come through your kitchen.

Serve Condiments in Individual Portions

To avoid double dipping or passing around a bottle of ketchup, try and offer condiments in individual portions. Get creative. Use tiny jars, ramekins, or any other small container.

Other Safe Food Handling Practices

Here are the most important things to remember as you are preparing food for your guests.

Wash your hands

Before preparing food, it is important to wash your hands—and not just because of COVID! It will get rid of other germs as well that can cause the spread of foodborne illnesses.

In addition, consider providing hand sanitizer so that people can sanitize their hands when they see fit.

Check internal temperature

Meat and poultry need to be cooked to their recommended minimum internal cooking temperature in order to reduce the amount of pathogenic bacteria to a safe level. So, use a thermometer to check the internal temperature of meat before serving.

Store food at proper temperature

To prevent pathogenic bacteria from multiplying and reaching a dangerous level, keep hot foods hot (135°F or above) and cold foods cold (41 °F or below). Do not leave food out for more than 2 hours.

Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader: Food Safety Edition

There is a lot to learn about food safety, from killing off pathogenic bacteria to prevent spreading foodborne illnesses, to how to properly prepare an allergy-safe meal, and much more. However, when you get down to it, it’s really not that complicated or difficult.

Let’s see what these elementary school students know about these food safety topics.

How Do You Kill Bacteria?

What happens when bacteria gets too hot?

Heating up food kills off bacteria and reduces it to a safe level. That’s why it is important to heat TCS food to its recommended minimum internal cooking temperature.

What happens when bacteria gets too cold?

Keeping food cold slows the rate at which bacteria can multiply, keeping the amount of bacteria at a safe level until it’s time to use. Properly storing and refrigerating TCS food and keeping it out of the temperature danger zone (40°F - 140°F) will prevent pathogenic bacteria from multiplying and causing a foodborne illness.


When Does Food Go Bad?

These kids got it: if food is squishy, bruised, or moldy, THROW IT OUT!

If there is mold on food, can you just scrape it off?

No, you should not just scrape it off. If you see mold on anything, it’s time to throw the whole thing out.


What Do Health Inspectors Do?

Health inspectors check to make sure that everything is up to code and check for violations.

Are health inspectors our friends or the enemy?

If you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, they are your friends. But if you’re doing something unsafe, they might not be your friend. Regardless, it is important to take them seriously, as it is their job to make sure everyone is always food safe.



When at a self-serve buffet, do not use your bare hands. Use the tongs provided, and do not use the same one for different foods. This prevents cross-contamination as well as allergen cross-contact.

What should you do if you see this at a buffet?

If you see someone using their hands, mixing up the serving utensils, or sneezing on the food, you should alert the staff immediately so that someone can switch it out for fresh, safer food.


What are Food Allergies or Intolerance?

People can have a food allergy to any number of foods, although there are 8 common food allergens.

Food allergens can be hidden in food, accidentally added in, or have proteins prevent due to cross-contact.

What are the symptoms of an allergic reaction?

Symptoms of an allergic reaction to a food allergen can include:

  •        Flushing/redness of the skin and hives
  •        Abdominal pain, diarrhea, or constipation
  •        Nausea and/or vomiting
  •        A sudden fall in blood pressure causing weakness, dizziness, and even unconsciousness
  •        Difficulty in swallowing or speaking due to the swelling of the throat and tongue
  •        Difficulty breathing due to constricting of the airways
  •        Severe asthma
  •        Collapse & unconsciousness (anaphylactic shock)

These can range from minor to life-threatening.

Is gluten intolerance the same as a food allergy?

A wheat allergy is different than gluten intolerance or sensitivity. Similar to lactose intolerance, people with a gluten intolerance can eat gluten without life-threatening side effects, but it will cause them discomfort. Symptoms of a gluten sensitivity include brain fog, fatigue, gas, bloating, and headaches.

Also not a food allergy, there is also Celiac Disease. This is an autoimmune disease where ingesting gluten can cause damage to the small intestine, causing long-term health complications.


Lightening Round

What should you do if you saw a rodent?

Don’t call the police or the animal shelter—tell your manager so that they can call a pest control specialist.

How long should you wash your hands?

Wash your hands for 20 seconds, or as long as it takes you to sing the ABCs.

What does HACCP stand for?

This one is a tricky one. HACCP stands for Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point, which according to the FDA, is a management system in which food safety is addressed through the analysis and control of biological, chemical, and physical hazards during food production.


These kids are smart, but if you are handling food, you will need to learn more. To become smarter than a fifth grader when it comes to food safety, check out our food handler training.