Healthcare providers can identify and diagnose an infected individual when that individual seeks medical attention.  Physicians order tests and laboratories will use applicable procedures to determine exactly what pathogen has caused the illness. A physician should be consulted when any symptoms linked with food poisoning occur and are severe or lengthy in duration.  The role of doctors in food poisoning outbreaks is critical – unless doctors perform the proper tests to submit to the department of health, it is impossible to detect an outbreak.

Food poisoning is usually diagnosed through laboratory testing, which will identify the pathogen causing the specific illness.  Many of the most common bacterium, such as Campylobacter, E. Coli and Salmonella, as well as internal parasites, can be discovered by simply testing an infected individual’s stool for its presence.  Such bacteria can be seen with the use of a microscope.  However, viruses, because they are so small, cannot be seen with the use of a microscope. Thus, viruses are usually identified by testing an infected individual’s stool for the genetic markers of the virus. Some foodborne illnesses may require more specialized tests if the source cannot be identified by normal laboratory procedures.

Physicians and laboratories must report each singular diagnosed infection that is included in a notifiable disease list maintained by local, state, and/or federal agencies.  Foodborne illnesses are included in the notifiable disease lists.  Physicians may also suspect an outbreak when they are seen by a larger than normal number of people exhibiting the same symptoms, especially when laboratory tests confirm that those people have been infected by the same pathogen.  Physicians will report such occurrences directly to the proper public health authorities, such as local and state agencies.