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Jun 17, 2008 11:12 AM

Food Poisoning in a Restaurant

If you developed a suspected case of food poisoning that could be attributed to the restaurant in which you last dined, how would you handle it?

I'm just curious because how do you know definitively what caused your illness?

I'm also interested to know how restaurants who have been contacted about this sort of thing handled it with the customer.

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  1. I don't think you can ever "know definitively" what caused food poisoning unless they culture the food (or it's one of those things that happens at banquets, where everyone who ate the curried crab or whatever gets sick). Chalk it up to one of those things that happens. And yes, I've had food poisoning, once I am pretty sure from improperly cooked spinach, once from who-knows-what at summer camp. I went back to both the restaurant and the camp. The camp claimed it was the flu. That hit dozens of people. All at once. For about 12 hours. You can't win :)

    1. When we investigate a reported illness, several things go on. 1) a food history for the last 5 days - if you got sick today - it probably was not the restaurant you ate at today unless its a viral thing or a staph toxin. Each illness has its own time frame and some can take at least 3 days to manifest. 2) we only investigate if there is more than one person sick - too many people out to make a quick buck. 3) We usually require stool samples so we know which organism we are dealing with. You should get checked by a MD if you are really sick because some things can kill you. 4) after all that we go to the restaurant and try to figure out the source and many times it isn't what you think - the bus boy who was handling the rolls - the salad that was washed with the chicken etc etc... Really easy when there are many people sick, hard when it is one.

      1. There was one time where I definitely knew that something caused food poisoning. Purchased a mini pie at a bakery one day. I had none and DH ate half of it. DH had very bad diarrhea later. The next day, I had literally two bites (and nothing else), and I had diarrhea. DH ate a few more bites and had diarrhea. The following day (if two days of diarrhea weren't enough), in order to make sure it was from the pie, he took a couple of more bites and got diarrhea. So we were pretty sure what caused it.

        I called the Department of Health and lodged a complaint and called the bakery. The bakery wasn't angry or surprised with my call and didn't refute my complaints, which I found odd because it really is difficult to pinpoint it to the establishment. I was expecting them to say something like, "How do you know it wasn't something else?" It was like they knew they did something wrong and were expecting our call. They said, "Oh no. Oh no. Oh no. I'm sorry." And then I heard the guy on the phone say to somebody else, "Was ______ working on Wednesday? (sigh)" Oddly enough, this bakery was part of a larger food court. When I checked the Department of health ratings at the other food establishments, the numbers were relatively low and very few incidences of vermin (in spite of the location). The numbers for this place were off the scale.

        1. Go directly to a doctor so that s(he) can determine if it actually IS food poisoning. S(he) will probably then tell you to make a list of all foods consumed during the past 3 days. Then go to the board of health and give them the same list along with sources. Food poisoning takes anywhere from 6 hours to 3 days to show symptoms.

          Restaurants are often contacted from customers claiming they got food poisoning but unless they have been to a doctor and had it confirmed, they don't take it very seriously. The calls are often along the lines of, "We ate at your establishment last night and upon getting home, my husband started vomiting profusely". This is not food poisoning.

          Go to the doctor. Do not assume it was the restaurant in which you last dined. It may have been, but it really may not have. The board of health can sort those things out.

          1. Sorry - gross story:

            I got food poisoning on New Years Eve two years ago - we were at a jazz club/restaurant for a night of jazz and multi-course meal from about 5pm. I had not been drinking (I was DD). Around 9pm I got violently ill and we had to leave at about 10 (I once I could make it out of the bathroom). It got worse and worse over the night. I called the nurses line and talked to a nurse who said to go to the hospital. I called the doctor on call from my primary care doctor's office who said to go to the hospital. I did not want to go to the hospital because it was New Year's Eve and I knew there would be a line of idiots with wounds in front of me, and a waiting room full of drunk I stayed home. I basically wanted to die for about three days.

            I blamed the jazz club. I hadn't eaten anything else that day and as I looked on the internet, there are some bugs that take a while to kick in (and everyone is quick to point these out to say that you couldn't have gotten sick at this place because it takes hours or days to get sick with X and you got sick at the restaurant or right after), but others that make you violently ill within a coule of hours. I talked to the manager of the club and he denied it saying there was no one else sick that night (which was not true - there were several other sick people in the ladies room, although who knows if they were sick or had just had too much to drink or if they would chock food poisoning up to having too much to drink. In any event, I got angry and wrote them a letter about how they'd made me sick, etc. and they sent me a gift certificate to come back for another show and dinner. I never used it - I don't think I could bring myself to eat there again due to the painful memories.

            Looking back on it, I should have contacted the health department as well, but as another poster pointed out - if I am the only one who contacts them, they won't even investigate. Plus, since I refused to go to the hospital, there were no cultures, etc.