Life Saving Food Safety Issues

What to do if you think you or your child has had a food reaction

White ambulance with yellow stripe on body.

1. Give rescue medication and contact 911
Severe reactions to food can start very soon after the food is eaten (often within minutes) but even if the reaction does not start that quickly, it does not mean that a reaction will not occur. Consequently it is important to give any medication prescribed by your allergist/physician to be taken in the case of a reaction as soon as possible after ingestion. Then call 911. You may think this is not necessary, but an allergic reaction is one of the recognized reasons to call 911 (as detailed at

Remember to stay calm when you call so that you are able to give the call-taker accurate information about the reaction and other important factors such as what reactions to food have been experienced in the past and what medication ( if any) has already been administered.

At this point, do not worry about preserving the food and packaging as seeking medical attention needs to be your immediate action. However DO NOT throw away either the suspected food or packaging. (See below)

The availability of rescue medication is critical in cases of severe allergic reactions to foods. Some consumers who have experienced severe allergic reactions to foods did not have access to epinephrine (also known as adrenaline), the most effective rescue medication, because they have never got a prescription for it. While we are not physicians and do not wish to offer medical advice, we would encourage consumers who suspect that they have a food allergy to get a proper diagnosis from a knowledgeable physician and then seek advice from that physician on the advisability of a prescription for epinephrine.

2. Preserve the suspected foodCup of coffee with whipped cream and donuts.
After the reaction has been treated, the patient is out of danger and you have returned home, then package the suspected food in a Ziploc™ style bag and place it into the freezer. Also, place the food packaging in a separate Ziploc™ bag and store it in a safe place. If the reaction has occurred in a restaurant or other foodservice facility, attempt to retrieve the uneaten portion of the food from the establishment.

3. Contact the Manufacturer
If the suspected reaction occurred to packaged food, your next action needs to be to contact the food manufacturer. Contact details are found on the food package. The manufacturer will be concerned to think one of their products may have caused a consumer to have a reaction so they will want to try and initiate investigations as soon as possible and to do this they will require information from the food package such as the exact name of the product and its production code (a number embossed somewhere on the package). They will be able to tell you where to find this information.

With this information, the manufacturer will be able to look at their detailed records as to when and where the suspected food was manufactured and what processes were followed. All this information can establish whether the food was likely to be the cause of the reaction. They may also ask you to send the suspected food to them for them to have analyzed or they may ask you to send the sample to the FARRP lab directly (although this is less likely). You may wish to comply with the request from the food company to send a sample of the food but it is always wise to retain a portion of the food to assure that laboratory analysis is done. Also, retain the packaging and send clear photos of the packaging to the manufacturer.

4. Contact your Allergist
Allergy Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) Logo.You need to let your allergist/physician know about the reaction as you may need to replace any rescue medication used (e.g. epinephrine). Additionally, your allergist may want to want to reassess your food reactions, particularly if the reaction involved new symptoms or may be due to a new food/food ingredient. If you do not have an allergist or a physician specializing in the treatment of food allergies we recommend you find one so your allergies can be assessed and treated as required.

What to keep after a suspected reaction

If you suspect you have had any type of reaction after eating a food, try to keep any of the remaining suspected food and any packaging it came in. If it was a food that came from a delicatessen counter, again keep any remaining food and packaging but also make a note of the date and if possible the time the food was bought and from which store. If you remember the brand take a note of that also.

If the reaction occurs after eating a carry-out, again keep what food you can and also record the name of the takeaway store and date and time the food was ordered/collected. If the reaction occurred after eating in a restaurant, then prevent the restaurant from clearing away the suspected food. However, this is sometimes not possible as the suspected food may have been cleared away already, but keeping a note of what was on the plate can be useful in determining if it was something in the meal that caused a reaction.

Whatever the origin of the suspected food, place it in a new, previously unused Ziploc™ type bag and place in the freezer until it is shipped for analysis ( if that is deemed necessary). Also keep any packaging, again in a new Ziploc™ bag but keep this in a dry place where it is not likely to be thrown away by accident.

When to call 911 (Taken from

Someone experiencing an allergic reaction is considered a medical emergency. If you are not sure whether the situation is a true emergency, officials recommend calling 911 and letting the call-taker determine whether you need emergency help. When you call 911, be prepared to answer the call-taker's questions, which may include:Numbers 9 1 1 in blue block.

  • The location of the emergency, including the street address
  • The phone number you are calling from
  • The nature of the emergency
  • Details about the emergency, such as a description of symptoms being experienced by the person having the allergic reaction

Remember, the call-taker's questions are important to get the right kind of help to you quickly so be prepared to follow any instructions the call-taker gives you. Many 911 centers can tell you exactly what to do to until help arrives. Finally, do not hang up until the call-taker instructs you to.

When to contact the food company

You should contact the food company whenever you suspect a reaction to eating one of their products has occurred. You should contact them as soon as you can after the medical emergency has passed so that no time is wasted in starting to determine if it actually was a reaction to the suspected food product or not. This is not only important for the individual suffering the reaction but will also reduce the likelihood of someone else suffering a reaction to the food if it was the cause of the reaction.

When to speak/send a sample to FARRPIllustrated retro yellow phone handset

The majority of food manufacturers/producers react speedily and responsibly when they hear that one of their products may have caused a reaction, but unfortunately not all do. If you feel the response you got from the food manufacturer/producer was not satisfactory, you can contact the FARRP laboratory directly to discuss the possibility of having the suspected food analyzed. The lab personnel will require details from the food packaging so have it to hand when you call. Even if the food manufacturer responds appropriately and even if they ask for the remaining food, you may wish to send a portion of the food to the FARRP laboratory for analysis; this is your decision.

The telephone number to call is 402-472-4484. The lab is open 8:00 am - 5:00 pm Monday - Friday (central time zone). It is closed weekends, Martin Luther King Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving (Thursday and Friday), and the week of Christmas Eve to New Years Day.

When to contact the FDA/regulatory authority

For packaged foods, the food manufacturer is required to notify the FDA after you have reported an allergic reaction to them. However, you may also wish to contact the FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator for your state (for meat, poultry and egg products, contact the USDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator for your state). Contacting FDA will help to assure that your complaint receives proper attention. FDA may also wish to obtain a portion of any relevant food sample for analysis. The FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator will want to obtain all of the important information from you about the suspected food product, the nature of the reaction, where the food was eaten, and other facts so be ready to provide that information. You may contact the FDA about your complaint even days later if you become dissatisfied with the response of the food manufacturer. If you send the suspect product to the FARRP laboratory for analysis, you may want to contact FDA to report the laboratory results. FARRP will leave this to your discretion.

Written by Kate Grimshaw PhD RD November 2013