As a food provider, receiving an allegation of food poisoning can be a worst nightmare come true. However, once you receive a complaint, it is important to handle the situation correctly.
An allegation of food poisoning may come directly from a customer or it could have been reported to an Environmental Health Officer.
If it comes directly from a customer, it is essential that you are prepared in advance for this situation so you can handle it appropriately.
It is important to take the allegation seriously, however, it is also important to not admit liability at this stage nor deny the allegation. Avoid statements such as ‘No one else has complained’ or ‘It doesn’t usually take x hours for the symptoms to develop’ and don’t suggest it may have been down to the quantity of alcohol or richness of food consumed.
It is important that the customer feels confident that their complaint is being taking seriously. Arrange for the manager to speak to the customer and reassure them that as a company you take such allegations seriously, and you intend to follow your internal procedure to investigate the situation fully.
Whilst there is an increasing trend towards a ‘compensation culture’ most customers simply want to feel you are taking them seriously. Responding appropriately at this stage can diffuse anger and even improve the relationship with the customers.
2. Fact Finding
This initial contact is the perfect time to gather as much information as possible to help you with your investigation – while the details are fresh in everyone’s minds.
Along with the customer’s name and contact details, some important questions to ask include:
GH Training Solutions have developed a standard form you can use in this situation to ensure nothing is missed out. Download it for free here: Alleged FP Form
If the allegation has come from the EHO, much of this information would have been collected and passed on by the EHO. It is also very likely that this allegation will prompt a visit by the EHO.
3. Your Immediate Actions
Based on the information you gather from the customer, or are presented with from the EHO, consider whether you should stop serving the food that was alleged to have caused the food poisoning. If you do, don’t throw it away instead quarantine and label it in case it needs to be tested.
4. Internal Investigation
Be proactive and consider what you can do to help the EHO with their investigation. Do remember that the EHO’s first priority is to ensure that no one else gets sick. This is about working together to determine what went wrong and if there is any danger.
Look at the journey the food took and collect relevant documentation and information.
You should assist the EHO fully and cooperate with them. If things are looking serious consider whether it would be best to close until the investigation is over.
Follow the instructions of the EHO with regards to when you can reopen, restock and even clean the premises. Depending on your findings, you may want to consider refresher Food Safety Training for your team members.
5. The Follow Up
Once your investigation is complete, do go back to the customer to tell them the outcome of your investigation. It’s not what goes wrong that counts, but how we dealt with it afterwards that is remembered.
This can be a stressful process. If you need additional support or guidance on the best way to handle the situation or determining the remedial actions required, please consider my consultancy services, or call me on 02380 993866 for a confidential conversation.
Rod Carver - Level 3 Food Safety Attendee
Academy Training Manager