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January Cartoon: Calling in Sick
Food manager talking with employee about illness symptoms

When you are feeling ill, there are certain symptoms and illnesses that you need to report to your manager. These symptoms are often associated with common foodborne illnesses and can quickly spread to your customers if you are not careful. To prevent a foodborne illness outbreak, you may need to stay home or perform non-food-related tasks. Your manager will let you know what to do depending on your symptoms and whom you serve.

Common foodborne illness symptoms

Symptoms you should report to your manager include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Jaundice (yellowing of skin or eyes)
  • Sore throat with fever
  • Infected cuts or sores on hands or wrists

You should also tell your manager if you have symptoms of COVID-19 or have tested positive for the virus. In addition, you may need to quarantine if you have been exposed to the virus (depending on your local regulatory authority’s guidelines). Although the virus is not transmitted through food, it can easily be transferred from person to person, especially in close spaces. Symptoms usually include:

  • Fever
  • Coughing
  • Sudden loss of taste or smell
  • Difficulty breathing

Reportable illnesses

The FDA has identified some of the most common illnesses that can easily be transferred through food. You should also let your manager know if you are diagnosed with one of these illnesses:

  • Salmonella (including Salmonella Typhi, also known as Typhoid fever)
  • Norovirus
  • Hepatitis A
  • E. coli
  • Shigella

Should you still work?

If you are diagnosed with one of the reportable illnesses, your manager should tell you to stay home from work. These illnesses will be reported to your local regulatory authority and they will tell you what has to happen before you can return to work.

If you are vomiting or have diarrhea, you can go back to work after the symptoms have subsided for 48 hours. If you have a sore throat with a fever, you may be able to do non-food-related tasks, like cleaning bathrooms or doing office work. The exception is if you work at a place that serves a highly susceptible population, such as a daycare center or nursing home. In this case, you should stay home.

If you have an infected wound on your hand or wrist, you may work as long as the wound is properly bandaged and a single-use glove is worn. This creates a double barrier to protect food from becoming contaminated. If the wound cannot be bandaged, then you should work non-food-related tasks.

Managers, you can use this poster to help you determine when an employee may work or should stay home.

If you are diagnosed with COVID-19, you may need to wait for 5-10 days before going back to work depending on if you test early or not. Follow your local regulatory authority guidelines for isolating and testing. In addition, you may be required to quarantine if you were exposed to the COVID-19 virus. Again, check with your local regulatory authority to determine how long you must stay home. You may be able to shorten your isolation time if you choose to test sooner.

For more information, check out our stand-up training guide about employee illness. For other resources and training, visit

— Janilyn Hutchings

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