Handling cases of alleged food poisoning

16/04/2007 - 00:00
Question: "I've received an allegation of food poisoning at my restaurant. How should I deal with it?"

Answer: From David Bashford, director of consulting services, Food Alert Having handled many cases of alleged food poisoning (or AFPs) during my career, the two most common statements I hear from restaurant managers and chefs are: In both cases we must be cautious. Our opinion at Food Alert is that all notifications must be taken very seriously and instant action taken. Often the person receiving the notification is defensive in their response, which only aggravates the situation. Your customer is making a complaint, they are not interested in how many portions you sold or that no-one else complained - they are complaining. If only one allegation has been received, it is unlikely that a food poisoning outbreak is occurring, but we must answer their complaint by looking at the facts that we have. If two or more unrelated allegations are received we may have a significant problem to deal with. One person should be put in charge of the handling of the complaint. Remember the key objectives of the handling of an outbreak of food poisoning: The first step is to obtain as much information as possible from the customer reporting the food poisoning. It is important the investigator takes careful and comprehensive notes throughout the investigation. These may well form the basis of any "due diligence" defence in the future, should the case ever go to a prosecution. Details to be recorded include: If any particular food is suspected of causing illness and there is some left it must be quarantined immediately. If possible, it should be microbiologically analysed at a laboratory. It should be established that all food handlers are fit for work and have not been suffering from vomiting and/or diarrhoea. If anyone has, they should be sent home and told to go to their doctor. Other information to be gathered includes: By studying the information gathered in this way, an assessment should made as to whether there is a likelihood that your operation caused the illness. In reality, it is unlikely that a case will be proven if: You should always respond to the customer, in writing, to let them know the outcome of your investigation. However, if there is strong evidence that your business has caused customers to be ill then we advise you to inform your insurance company and in some instances, the local authority Environmental Health Department, who may advise you on how to handle the situation and what action should be taken to prevent a recurrence. If you have contravened the food safety legislation, they may wish to prosecute. In summary: You may consider that you would like to use the services of Food Alert. If so then contact: Food Alert Babmaes House 2 Babmaes Street London SW1Y 6HD Tel: 020 7915 5555 Weblink: www.foodalert.com Disclaimer: This document reflects the law and practice. It is general in nature, and does not purport in any way to be comprehensive or a substitute for specialist legal advice in individual circumstances.

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