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Simply put, food poisoning occurs when people consume food that's been contaminated with harmful bacteria, parasites, and other types of germs. Although it's not a pleasant picture, food poisoning is a common (and costly) challenge in the foodservice industry that should be taken very seriously. In fact, here are a few key statistics from the CDC:

  • Each year there's a reported 48 million cases of food poisoning—that's about 1 in every 6 Americans
  • Foodborne illnesses result in an estimated 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths per year
  • Settlement amounts can reach millions of dollars depending on the severity of injury or death

To decrease your chances spreading foodborne illness at your restaurant or foodservice establishment, learn the signs, symptoms, and steps to prevent food poisoning:

  1. Learn the four steps to prevent food poisoning
  2. Common culprits: identify top foods that cause food poisoning
  3. Detect food poisoning symptoms
  4. How does food get contaminated?
  5. A customer has food what?

Shop our top products to prevent foodborne illness at your restaurant or foodservice establishment:

Four Steps to Prevent Food Poisoning

According to the CDC, there's four easy steps to prevent food poisoning:


Wash everything when you're cooking. There's no such thing as being too thorough when it comes to cleaning. This means to wash your hands, all utensils, other food prep tools, kitchen surfaces, and any other area your food may come in contact with.


Keep certain food separate from each other. For foods like fresh produce, make sure this is kept far away from items like raw meat, chicken, turkey, seafood, and eggs. To make this a little easier, we recommend using separate cutting boards and plates.

Pro Tip: use color coded cutting boards for an extra measure of safety to keep foods separated.


Cook food to the instructed internal temperatures. This is the best way to kill germs and ensures the food you're serving is safe to eat. The best way to do this is to use a food thermometer to check temperatures.

Need new food thermometers? There are tons of in-stock options here.


Don't leave food out—refrigerate as soon as possible. In most cases, you should refrigerate all of your perishable food and leftovers within 2 hours.

Pro Tip: on hot, summer days that are around 90°F, we even recommend you refrigerate leftovers within 1 hour.

Top Foods That Cause Food Poisoning

Food Spoilage

Some foods and drinks are more associated with food poisoning than others. Here's a list of the top four types commonly linked:


1. Undercooked or raw animal products

Such as chicken, meat, eggs, and seafood

Tools that can help keep customers safe:

Food Thermometers

2. Raw or lightly cooked sprouts

Alfalfa, bean, or any other

Tools that can help keep customers safe:

Vegetable Steamers

3. Unpasteurized beverages

Milk, pressed fruit & vegetable juices

Tools that can help keep customers safe:

Specialized Milk Cooler

4. Soft Cheese & Unpasteurized Milk

Unpasteurized milk, cheeses like queso fresco, brie and feta

Tools that can help keep customers safe:

Use-By Labels

Food Poisoning Symptoms


As many sicknesses go, there's a wide range of symptoms for food poisoning. A few symptoms caused from common cases of foodborne illnesses include:

  • Stomach cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • And loss of appetite

Along with these symptoms, it's also important to know that some of the population is more susceptible to food poisoning than others. This group of people includes:

  • Pregnant women
  • Young children (under the age of 5)
  • The elderly (those over 65 years old),
  • And those with chronic illnesses.

How Food Gets Contaminated


There's a number of ways food can become contaminated. From harvesting and processing, to shipping and being prepared, there's many different times your food has the possibility to get contaminated. Here's a few common causes:

  • Cross contamination - the transfer of bacteria from one food to another. To avoid this, try using color-coded tools to keep items from touching.
  • Improper washing - one of the top preparation steps for most food starts with washing the product. This eliminates germs, bacteria, and other parasites that would otherwise be served and then consumed.
  • Undercooked food - bacteria often live on raw meats from the start of the slaughtering process. Besides washing your products first, make sure you cook your food long enough to kill these bacteria. A common rule of thumb to know is that bacteria is killed at 212°F, or 100°C.

A recent study found that 84% of raw chicken sold in supermarkets was contaminated with Campylobacter bacteria. Although a large percentage, this can be eliminated simply by cooking the chicken thoroughly.

A Customer Gets Food Poisoning—Here Are 5 Things You Need to Do Immediately


Follow these five steps if a customer thinks they've gotten food poisoning from your business:

  1. While it may sound intuitive to start by talking to your sick customer, there's an even more important step to take first. Start by identifying the source of the food poisoning. The worst scenario is serving other customers the same poisoned food, so immediately start by pinpointing the contaminated food or source.
  2. Now, talk with your customer. Make sure to have empathy and truly make them feel heard. There's a fine line to walk with this, as you don't want to completely assume blame for the issue, and here's why: if the patron files a lawsuit, that apology could unfortunately be construed as an admission of guilt.
  3. Although you certainly want to be upfront and honest, that fact of the matter is this: contaminated food can take anywhere from minutes to days before actually causing illness, so it's possible that your customer became ill from something eaten at home or somewhere else. It's best to be understanding, yet also neutral to your customer.
  4. Complete an official report. Document the incident using a foodborne illness complaint form, which we've hyperlinked here. This form helps keep your business organized, and assists you in your investigation of this claim.
  5. Follow up with your patron after the investigation is complete. Make sure to let them know the thorough steps you took to resolve the issue. If the situation fits for this scenario, offering complimentary vouchers or gift cards is a great way to get these weary customers back in your door again, and also shows them you appreciate their business.

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Meet Hubert

Only Hubert delivers the expertise and products to solve complex challenges like overcoming the labor shortage, driving more food sales, and creating a memorable experience for customers.

For 75 years we've helped many industries—including hospitality, education, food retail, healthcare, retail, and more—overcome these unique challenges with our expertise and line of products, including displayware, display fixtures, décor, signage, bar & beverage, food prep equipment, large commercial equipment, ice machines, merchandisers, and back of the house equipment.

Want to learn more? Talk to an expert.

Legal Disclaimer: Hubert is not a legal advisor. This document is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal information or advice. All communication from Hubert should be confirmed by your company's legal advisor before making any decisions.