File a Complaint or Report a Foodborne Illness or Contaminated Product

How to File a Complaint or Report a Foodborne Illness or Contaminated Product.

NH RSA 143:A gives the NH Division of Public Health Services' Food Protection Section the authority to license and inspect food service establishments and retail food stores. One of the reasons for doing this is to help ensure that the health of the public is protected from the consumption of food that may be contaminated anywhere from "farm to fork" – on the farm, during transport, storage, preparation, service or display.

There are 3 types of complaints that are received by the Food Protection Section:

  • Foodborne Illness
  • Sanitation
  • Food Product Contamination
    • foreign object
    • injury resulting from foreign object
    • intentional tampering of a food product

If you have a food-related concern or complaint that you would like investigated contact Food Protection as soon as possible.

In NH, 15 towns and cities have authority to license and regulate the food service establishments within their jurisdictions. If the incident you would like to report occurred in one of these towns or cities, you are encouraged to contact the DPHS Food Protection Section and we will forward the information to them.


When and how do I report a foodborne illness?

If you suspect that you have become ill after eating a food product or after eating in a restaurant, please contact us as soon as possible, preferably by phone. Your complaint can be taken over the phone and will be given priority. In order to facilitate the investigation, it is extremely important to provide as much information as you are able.

What information is needed to report a foodborne illness?

It is important to know what symptoms you are experiencing – vomiting, diarrhea, headache, fever (temperature) etc. It is sometimes helpful to know which symptoms started first and how long after you ate you started feeling ill. We also need to know how long you have had symptoms and if you are still experiencing symptoms.

A complete food history is a valuable component to the investigation of a foodborne illness. The food history includes the foods consumed at each meal starting the day of the illness and two days prior for each person who ate the meals together. Sometimes it can be difficult to remember what foods you have eaten in the past three days. Try to think of activities or appointments you had to do on those days to help you remember what you ate.

Many people think the last restaurant they ate at or last meal they ate is the cause of the illness. This is not necessarily true. Some bacteria create toxins or chemicals that will trigger early onset of symptoms such as vomiting. Other bacteria require a longer incubation period and have to stay within the digestive system for a much longer period before causing illness such as diarrhea. Therefore, it may not be the last meal you ate but one, two, or three days before that actually made you sick.

Be prepared to provide the information listed below because these questions will be asked when you call.

a) Name, address, and phone number of the person making the complaint
b) Name and location of the food service establishment
c) What did you eat? If you do not remember, provide information about what your food preference are, i.e. foods usually eaten or routine dietary habits. Also be prepared to provide information about foods that have been recently purchased and where you purchased them during the incubation period of the disease under suspicion.
d) What was the date and time you ate?
e) Date and time of illness onset – when did you become ill?
f) How long were you ill – hours, days, ongoing?
g) Symptoms of illness – nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, if diarrhea – number of watery stools in a 24 hour period, blood in stool, if fever – highest temperature, headache, chills, muscle body/aches, severe weakness, other
h) How many people ate together?
i) Number of people ill
j) Did anyone go to the doctor?
k) What was the date of visit?
l) Physician's name and phone number
m) Was anyone hospitalized?
n) Hospital name and phone number – dates submitted and released
o) Was a stool sample collected? Date specimen collected.
p) A complete food history (including what your drank) for the past 3 days (72 hrs) – breakfast, lunch, dinner

How do I know if I have a foodborne illness?

The best way to tell if you have a foodborne illness is to submit a stool sample for testing to your healthcare provider. If you have diarrhea, then the stool sample results can help to determine if the illness is caused by a foodborne agent. It is difficult to investigate a foodborne illness without a stool sample and impossible to completely identify the source or to help substantiate the claim against a particular establishment responsible for the illness. Therefore, you are strongly encouraged to request a stool sample especially with diarrheal illness when you seek medical attention. This specimen will aid in the identification of the agent causing the illness and will aid in the overall investigation of the implicated food establishment or food product.

What happens after I report the illness?

When you report the illness that you feel is related to something you ate, a complaint coordinator in Food Protection will interview you, discuss your symptoms and go over your food history. You may be encouraged to seek medical attention to submit a stool sample for analysis especially if you still have diarrhea to aid in the foodborne illness investigation.

After the interview over the phone, the complaint coordinator will file a report and inform a Food Protection inspector or the self-inspecting jurisdiction of the illness complaint. This report initiates the investigation and inspection of the implicated food service establishment or retail food store. The inspection focuses on the preparation of the implicated food from ingredients to preparation and service as well as an overall inspection of the facility.

What is a sanitation complaint and how do I report it?

A sanitation complaint involves the cleanliness of the food service establishment or retail food store; hygienic practices of food service workers such as glove use, hand washing, appearance, health; rodents, insects or flies; and objects in the food such as hair.

Although these items may be disturbing, disgusting or unsettling to observe, this type of complaint is required to be submitted in writing before an inspector will be sent out to investigate the complaint. The complaint may be submitted without a name but it must be in writing. To report a sanitation complaint, contact the Food Protection Section.

What information is needed to file a sanitation complaint in writing?

Sanitation complaints must be submitted in writing. To submit a sanitation complaint, describe the incident or concern as completely as possible. Include the name and address of the establishment, the date the incident occurred and any other pertinent information.

Do I have to submit my name on the written complaint?

No, this complaint can be submitted anonymously. However, if we have questions or you want information on our findings, we will not be able to contact you.

Will my name be kept confidential?

As stated in the NH Rules for the Sanitary Production and Distribution of Food, He-P 2304.15 (b), consumer complaints received regarding illness or sanitation of a food establishment shall have the name, address, and phone number or other identifying information of the individual making the complaint maintained as confidential and such information shall not be released without written permission of the complainant.

What happens after I file the sanitation complaint?

After the complaint is received, the complaint coordinator will file a report and inform the Food Protection inspector or self-inspecting jurisdiction of the sanitation complaint. This report initiates the investigation and inspection of the food service establishment or retail food store. The inspection focuses on the details of the sanitation complaint and may result in a full inspection of the facility.

How do I report food product contamination (Foreign Object/Injury/Tampering)?

If you have purchased food products that have visible contamination, foreign objects, off-color, off-flavor or potential tampering, the complaint can be submitted over the phone. Depending on the severity of the issue or in the event that it may be intentional tampering, the police may be notified. Federal agencies may also be contacted if the food products are not produced in NH but are distributed in NH since they then fall under federal jurisdiction. You are encouraged to contact Food Protection to file the complaint and then the report will be forwarded to the appropriate federal agency.

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