A new toll-free Food Safety Consumer Complaint Hotline (1-800-843-7890) was launched in January by the Washington State Department of Agriculture.n Their goal is to reduce the risk of food-borne illness by making it easier for consumers to lodge complaints and for officials to address them.

Many government agencies — local, state and federal — deal with food-safety complaints, and most have phone numbers and sometimes Web sites where consumers can report problem foods or apparent food-related illnesses. The hotline takes food-safety complaints, then refers them to the appropriate agency, said Linda Condon, food-safety program specialist for the agriculture department.

Nationally, an estimated 76 million cases of food-borne illness occur every year, though far fewer are actually reported because people often don’t realize their symptoms are food-linked. In Washington, 55 outbreaks of food-borne disease, totaling about 610 individual cases, were recorded in 2003. Many organisms found at times in various foods can make people sick, but the most common cases in Washington involve, in order of frequency, campylobacter, salmonella, shigella and E. coli 0157:H7, say state health officials.