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Restaurant food poisoning questions

Last night I went out to dinner w/ a small group of colleagues for a farewell party. We've all been to this restaurant a few times and never had any problems whatsoever. Last night I decided to order a short rib dish I'd never had (at this restaurant) but have had it over the years at other restaurants so I know what it should taste like.

My first bite the food taste gamey. It had a very off flavor. In general I don't like lamb or meats that have noted gamey flavors so I tend to avoid ordering them. Even the smell is off-putting to me.

These were beef short ribs.

After the first bite I debated whether to say something, send the dish back, ask someone else to try it, etc. I wound up not saying anything given the occasion and wound up slowing eating a few bites and shifting the food around. I've also never sent a dish back before so that also was part of my reluctance.

Oddly, the waitress didn't ask if I wanted the leftovers which I would have refused anyway, but she just took the dish away without saying anything.

Went to bed fine, but woke up early this morning and just started puking right away. Pretty much puked non-stop until late this afternoon.

Should I contact the restaurant? Contact the health department? Call my doc? Forget about it? I texted the person I am closest to and she didn't get sick,

I'm 100% positive it was this dish and I 100% regret not sending it back.

Also, I only vomited. Nothing from the other direction. And I'm scared to eat anything, even though I am kind of hungry now. I've only had a few sips of water since I last got sick and was able to keep it down.

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  1. You MIGHT be right, but unless you saved a sample and get it tested, you'll never prove it to anyone. Most people who think they can pinpoint the cause of what they claim is food poisoning have been incubating a gastrointestinal virus and the timing is coincidence.

    I would contact the restaurant but not in a confrontational manner. Just say you suspect the entree and wanted to alert them to check their refrigeration and inventory. Since you didn't say anything at the time, you have no leg to stand on. You probably won't even get a thank you, much less an apology, since that could be used as evidence that the restaurant knows it has a food safety issue. You can inform the health department. If other people have had similar experiences, it will help establish a pattern for them to investigate.

    5 Replies
    1. re: greygarious

      This is very important. The vast majority of "stomach bugs" (technical term....) are the result of incubating for 24-48 hours, be they food poisoning or a viral infection. Not to mention that if you were in the process of coming down with a virus - that may have altered your sense of smell/taste/appetite.

      Before anything gets reported to the health department, you'd have to go to the doctor and be tested for what you have. At that point, the lab/doctor may even be required to report certain kinds of infections to the health department so they can monitor trends/spikes/etc.

      If you're still concerned, then I would first recommend calling the doctor/speaking to a nurse. They'd be in the best place to at least assess if you should see a doctor or not. A few months ago I went through the worst food poisoning I hope to ever experience - and it took 4-5 weeks to sort itself out. Unfortunately medically speaking there's not really that much to do. I was put on some mega-antibiotics, and even though I had a bacterial infection, it took two rounds and the doctors themselves admit they don't know if it just worked itself out or if the medicine did anything. The most important thing they tracked was my fever and if I could keep down any fluids to determine if I needed to be hospitalized.

      In terms of when/what to eat - the pattern I've always taken was first water, second gatorade, third toast/crackers.

      1. re: cresyd

        Sorry but you are wrong about that timeline. I have had food poisoning a few times and have had it incubate in less than 3 hours.

        1. re: PotatoHouse

          My timeline was meant to refer to the majority of "stomach bugs" (bacteria, viruses, etc), not every incident. There are stomach bugs that take 8 hours to incubate. There are stomach bugs that can take up to 5 days.

          Bacillus cereus takes can incubate in as little as 1 hour. It is also responsible for only 2-5% cases of food poisoning. My point wasn't that it wasn't possible, but that it's not likely.

          1. re: PotatoHouse

            That has been my observation, and also that of my wife, who is a clinical nurse, though not specializing in just GI issues.


      2. <Went to bed fine, but woke up early this morning and just started puking right away>

        Sometime I would feel bad all night long and then puke.

        < And I'm scared to eat anything, even though I am kind of hungry now.>

        During my most severe food poisoning incident, I was sick for 4-5 days. No matter what I eat, it would irritate me and made me throw up. So I went hungry for 3 days -- scary. What I found out on the third day is to that I was fine with drinking juice or any liquid with nutrients. The liquid did not irritate me.

        If you happen to able to eat any food (hopefully not), then you can try soup or juice. As purely as liquid as possible and see if that help.

        1. I would call the restaurant and let a manager know.

          I am not a doctor (I just play one on the Internet ;) but maybe you should try to eat a little live culture yogurt for some probiotic action...get the good bacteria to fight the bad. Sorry you feel so bad :(

          1. You can try calling the restaurant but I think they'll be quite noncommittal on the subject. The thing is it may have a bug you picked up days earlier somewhere else. You really don't know for sure.

            I know this is hindsight but next time please don't eat something that you're pretty sure is "off". This subject came up on this board before and I couldn't believe the replies from people who didn't want to make waves.

            But might I suggest ginger ale and dry toast in the meantime. Settles stomachs in adults and little ones alike.

            2 Replies
            1. re: miss_belle

              Ginger is great for upset stomachs but it must be REAL ginger. Reed's and Stewart's are two brands of ginger ale that work - they are really strong and not particularly pleasant to swallow so you wind up with little sips, which is a good thing. If you can chug it down - Canada Dry, Schweppes, for example - it has little or no real ginger. You can also eat fresh or candied ginger for the same effect as strong ginger ale.

              1. re: greygarious

                Yes, and GInger Aid tea is also great...

            2. Sorry that this happened to you.
              I don't have any advice to add regarding following up with the restaurant or health dept.
              In terms of taking care of yourself, though, don't push yourself to eat anything in the next day or 2, but do try to stay hydrated. Sucking on crushed ice and slowly sipping **clear** liquids such as water or apple juice or even flat Coke (not diet -- you need calories right now) is best. Add some simple carbs like Melba toast or steamed rice only when you really feel up to it.

              16 Replies
              1. re: almond tree

                Sports drinks that include electrolytes are another good liquid item.

                1. re: cresyd

                  These can be high in sugar though which sometimes is bad on empty stomaches.. i would go with pedlyte

                  1. re: girloftheworld

                    pedialyte is the best when you're losing lots of fluids/lytes.

                    1. re: chartreauxx

                      if you can past the fact that it tastes worse than what you just lost.

                      1. re: sunshine842

                        Uff, that is the big thing with pedialyte - the taste is a bit rough. I've always been told by doctors that because you've lost so much, that the straight sugar from Gatorade is actually a good thing.

                        1. re: cresyd

                          my gp and my pediatrician both recommend sports drinks -- one even told me flat out that she wouldn't recommend pushing something on a kid that she wouldn't drink herself (referring to pedialyte)

                          1. re: sunshine842

                            Yeah - I have a fairly weak GI system (unfortunately) so at this point in my life, I also think I have a really strong positive psychosomatic response to Gatorade specifically.

                            1. re: sunshine842

                              a good natural alternative to sports drinks and pedialyte is coconut water, if you can get past the taste of that as well.

                              1. re: trolley

                                ah, but that's good stuff -- doubly if you can get your hands on a green coconut -- green coconut jelly is magical stuff.

                                I love coconut water...but happily (and knock on wood...)I haven't had a good case of the yuck since before coconut water became readily available.

                                1. re: sunshine842

                                  i enjoy the stuff out of the young coconut as opposed to the stuff in the tetra paks. my little guy loves the coconut water out of the young coconut and has helped him tremendously during the stomach bug. he hates pedialyte and i don't blame him. tastes terrible!

                        2. re: chartreauxx

                          the grape flavor isn't too bad. it's a medicinal fluid, not a milkshake.

                          1. re: chartreauxx

                            but when you're dealing with a sick, cranky toddler, "not too bad" is roughly equivalent to "unholy creation of the devil himself, sure to cause an immediate, painful death".

                            Like the doctor, I have a hard time pushing something on a kid that *I* think is disgusting.

                            1. re: sunshine842

                              i wasn't saying anything regarding using pedialyte for kids; as far as i know, i was suggesting it to the OP, who is presumably (like me) an adult capable of swallowing less-than-delicious stuff if it'll help me get well faster/more safely.

                              1. re: chartreauxx

                                okay....but when you're sick, tired, and cranky, the last thing you want to do is choke down some evil-tasting brew that is capable of making a healthy, well adult gag, especially when the doctor told you that a sports drink was okay...

                                I don't care for sports drinks, but they are at least potable.

                    2. re: almond tree

                      Ginger ale is also good: ginger has some anti-nausea properties on its own. It's not as easy to find, though, especially if you're on the road.

                      1. re: tardigrade

                        True. However, sometime it is good to throw up especially the first day, and potentially the second day.

                    3. Thank you for the replies. Wound up speaking to my doctor and he said it could be anything even though I rarely get sick and I did stop vomiting around 4 in the afternoon. He said to drink Coke, Gatorade or Campbell's chicken or beef broth, none of which I have. I also didn't want to tell him the restaurant's name. He also asked if I had leftovers, lol.

                      I just keep thinking about the short ribs and how they tasted and how I should have made someone else try it or even the waitress and just sent it back.

                      The only thing is that I rarely get sick and I've never woken up and just started vomiting right away.

                      I woke up about about an hour ago and feel fine.

                      17 Replies
                      1. re: mushroomaffairs

                        Hope you continue to be on the mend and fortunately a number of stomach issues really can be of the 24 hour variety. Horrible while they last, but at least they pass relatively quickly. Unfortunately, the whole GI system is an area of medicine that doesn't always have a lot of definitive answers.

                        In future, if something in a restaurant tastes off - definitely send it back. A good point even if the ribs weren't responsible.

                        1. re: mushroomaffairs

                          Guess I missed something - the reason for you regretting you didn't share the suspect dish with one of your dinner partners or the waitress.

                          So you'd have someone else with whom to share the misery?

                          As a "food taster" as if you were a medieval king? If they don't die, the food's okay?

                          You got bit by one of the food demons. It happens. Be glad that no one else in your group didn't end up calling "Ralph!" into the big white telephone. You're over it. Cross the restaurant off your list and move on.

                          1. re: mushroomaffairs

                            You can call the restaurant and say you suspect the short ribs may have been the culprit and they will maybe note your information in case others call with similar complaints re: the same dish. However, I suspect that it wasn't food poisoning but rather just an intestinal virus.

                            Get yourself some Florastor or other probiotic and hydrate. Glad you're on the upswing. :)

                            1. re: mushroomaffairs

                              If you feel fine a day later, I'll bet my first-born child that it was not food poisoning. I've had it twice in my long life and both times, was nauseous only for a day, but weak as a kitten for several days, unable to work and barely able to choke down even the blandest food. Ate only because I knew I needed to - I certainly was not hungry and did not even want to think about food of any kind.

                              1. re: mushroomaffairs

                                If you are in bad enough shape to seek a doctor's advice, then you have a moral obligation to answer the question when he asks the name of the restaurant. Others may be similarly afflicted, but those with a compromised immune system aren't going to get off as easily as you did.

                                If there's a problem with the restaurant, the restaurant and the local health authorities need to know about it. Someone else's life may depend upon it, even if you're feeling better now.

                                This is no longer about not wanting to make waves or to throw someone under the bus -- this is about helping track down a potential problem before someone is far sicker (or worse) than you.

                                1. re: sunshine842

                                  Some years ago I became sick on a business trip to Orange County, vomiting quite a bit the last night of the trip. My guess is food poisoning. But what meal?
                                  - the seafood restaurant the evening before?
                                  - the churro from the mall earlier in the afternoon?
                                  - the tomato and mozzarella salad from room service at noon?
                                  - the Indian restaurant the night before?
                                  - the Wolfgang Puck lunch earlier?

                                  1. re: paulj

                                    make a list.

                                    In the OPs case, it was one meal.

                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                      my doctor told me determining the cause of food poisoning is tricky bc many people will have a delayed reaction to something they ate hours ago, and even 12 hrs ago. i thought my DR was just being a jerk so i asked my friend who is also a doctor and she said the same thing. i got severe food poisoning from raw oysters. the minute i consumed the bad oyster i felt funny. i drove home like 90 mph then spent the following 6 hrs in the bathroom. then afterwards it was on and off for the following 12 hrs. it took about 5 days to return to normal.

                                      1. re: trolley


                                        Doesn't change my opinion.

                                        1. re: sunshine842

                                          i agree. Drs can be such downers. i told the Dr that every time I thought of that oyster my gag reflex would just set in. he just said that my brain is just doing tricks. i couldn't get around to eating raw oysters again until about a year later. even now i'm still weary of them. this was 13 yrs ago too.

                                        2. re: trolley

                                          Yep, it's tricky to figure out what caused food poisoning. Sounds like you knew, though. Yowza!

                                          1. re: trolley

                                            My experience with bad raw oysters was similar. Rapid onset (but more than minutes), and it took me a week to get over it.

                                            1. re: trolley

                                              Determining cause from one case is difficult, but it's still important to provide as much information as possible. If a doctor suspects the illness is linked to commercially prepared food, they generally have to report it to the health department. Epidemiologists at the health department look for patterns, and if they notice a sudden increase is similar cases, they will investigate. First they will try to identify the pathogen so they can narrow down the exposure window (based on incubation and first reported onset of symptoms), and so they can determine the most likely exposure source (food vs water vs environment). During the investigation, they will try to contact everyone who was ill and have the list everything they ate during the time period in question, and if possible they will target the questions based on a suspected source.

                                        3. re: sunshine842

                                          The OP can tell her doctor the name of the restaurant, but without the doctor finding it reasonable to test for the germ responsible for the illness, nothing will happen.

                                          For a start, the doctor has no reliable way of saying that the OP became sick from food poisoning or a gastrointestinal virus. Reporting to the health department, I ate at X restaurant last night and now I'm vomiting - while it may seem related to the person reporting - is highly unlikely to contribute to much.

                                          Calling the health department to report may make someone feel better, but given the entire story, I can't imagine it doing anything. There's just no way for the health department to confirm what disease the OP would have in this situation - or even if the OP has a disease at all. I am not saying this is the case, but during high school I had a friend who got wildly hungover and told her parents it was food poisoning.

                                          There are lots of things that can lead to someone throwing up. Trying to play foodborne illness detective takes a lot more than just thinking of the most likely culprit.

                                          1. re: cresyd

                                            But multiple reports implicating a specific restaurant, or a cluster in a community, might trigger action by the health department - such as an inspection and collection of samples.

                                            Doctors should know what to do.

                                            1. re: paulj

                                              A cluster may - but without having a true diagnosis, it's pretty weak.

                                              I once had food poisoning/stomach virus (in the US) that within the first 4-5 hours of being sick resulted in me having to be hospitalized due to loss of fluids. Even in that case, the doctors didn't feel it was necessary to test me and when I mentioned where I'd eaten in the past day they said it most likely wasn't relevant and not to worry.

                                              The more recent time I got really bad food poisoning to the point where I did end up being tested (and came up with a bacteria that by law - in the US and in Israel where I got sick - is reported to the health department), I was told that as rates of food poisoning across Israel had been rising incrementally over recent years that unless my case was part of a spike, I was just going to be another statistic of the normally occuring rates. Ultimately though, all the reporting that happened was done directly through the lab/doctor.

                                      2. Others have raised the question of whether timing is a clear indicator of the infection source. I wonder whether a braised meat dish, even if it tastes 'off' is a likely source.

                                        The food poisoning cases that make the news usually are traced to undercooked ground meat (hamburgers), uncooked salad items (spinach, green onions), unpasteurized juices, or cold deli meats.

                                        A braised dish requires cooking temperatures (about 180F) and times (hours) that would kill all bugs. Food handling standards require 165F for 30 seconds (or something like that). Standards also require that food like this be held at 140F (or more), or chilled rapidly for longer storage. But if chilled (say for overnight storage) it should be rewarmed to 165F.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: paulj

                                          Well, spoiling food creates toxins that remain active even if the food is cooked past the recommended temperature. That said, this sounds more like a 24 hour bug than FP to me.

                                          1. re: paulj

                                            Cooked foods can be reinfected during handling, storage or reheating.

                                          2. I am glad you are feeling better. Who knows what actually made you sick but my unscientific observation is that people often suspect a food item they think tasted weird but often the culprit doesn't have a bad taste. Bacteria-contaminated food often tastes perfectly normal.

                                              1. You don't need a sample to make a report of food poisoning, at least where I live. When I had symptoms several months ago, and a pretty good idea what the source was, I just called in a report to the county health department. I don't know what came of it, but if there were multiple reports they would surely investigate.

                                                1. When my long-time 'hood taco truck was out of corn tortillas and my customary weekend taco ingredients, I settled for a chicken quesadilla. A day later I thought I would have to get better to die. NEVER again. EVER. Disappointing.
                                                  My only two bad restaurant experiences, I think, were clams, but a restaurant can't vouch for every clam. We share the risk.

                                                  3 Replies
                                                  1. re: Veggo

                                                    the problem with bad clams and bad oysters is that YOU KNOW....but by the time you realize it, you've already started to chew, and there's no going back.

                                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                                      Many Food Pathogens have no color taste flavor or smell.

                                                      1. re: chefj

                                                        no argument there-- but a bad clam or a bad oyster is bad.

                                                  2. It can be difficult to pin down the source even though you are certain it was caused by a specific dish. For example, there have been times where I ate with others at restaurants. One person complained the next day that they suffered from food poisoning due to the dish they ordered. But others, including myself, tried the same dish without any ill effects.

                                                    1. You mentioned you called a friend, did the friend or anyone for that matter have the same meal as you? (I read about half the responses sorry if this has been asked). While this is not a 100% fool proof way to determine if the food was spoiled, if you AND someone else had the same dish and both got sick, you've got a better case to report to the restaurant.

                                                      I see you've already spoken to your Dr. no need to go over care taking advice.

                                                      You can call the restaurant and give them the heads up, no problem with that. Next time send it back!!!

                                                      1. I wound up speaking to my coworkers and I was the only one who got sick and they all agreed I should have just sent the dish back.

                                                        I keep thinking my mistake was not ordering pastas which is what this restaurant is really known for.

                                                        Do any of you eat short ribs? What are they supposed to taste like to you? Like I stated, I've ordered them several times over the years at various restaurants. Regardless what was done to them, they've tasted like any other beef product should taste, not like lamb or with any kind of funk to it. This isn't a steakhouse either so I'm guessing their meats aren't dry aged or even wet aged to give flavor.

                                                        I forgot to mention that when I spoke to my doctor, he said that any specimens (stool, vomit, restaurant leftovers, etc.) should be sent in asap w/o waiting time because too many variables can affect the results? So it's not like I could collect samples, stick them in the fridge and wait until Monday morning to bring them to the health dept., not that I want to keep a bowl of vomit in the fridge, lol.

                                                        He also said that I could have picked up something from the restroom doorknob, chair, etc. but if I questioned the taste to never hesitate to order something else.

                                                        Either way, after about 7 hours of nonstop hurling, I slowly wound up feeling better and pretty much back to normal. I'm just sorry I broke my 12 year record of my last time getting sick.

                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: mushroomaffairs

                                                          As you can tell from the above discussion and from your Doctor, there is no way for you to know what made you sick or when or how you contracted it. So continuing to try and figure out if it was the Short Ribs with no more information is futile.
                                                          Glad you are better.

                                                          1. re: mushroomaffairs

                                                            Out of curiosity, did the doctor say that the health department collected human waste samples??

                                                          2. When I suspect food poisoning, I take activated charcoal capsules immediately.

                                                            Dehydration is more of a problem than nutrients in the first several hours.

                                                            Ginger tea from Traditional Medicinals is lovely.

                                                            Eat what sounds good, slowly and in small amounts.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: sandylc

                                                              yes, activated charcoal works wonders. also sounds gross but a tablespoon of unfiltered apple cider vinegar like Bragg diluted in water helps. you may gag at the vinegar/water solution but if you can get it down the hatch it's very helpful. and agreed. most restaurant will brush you off bc it can be anything and it's really difficult to pin down.

                                                            2. I think that most restaurants will unfortunately brush you off; some of them not very nicely. They know if they have problems or not and also whether you can likely make a case.

                                                              1. http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/m...
                                                                Article on food contamination, discussing both sources, and ways that poisoning is traced.

                                                                1. We got food poisoning last weekend from one of our favorite restaurants and the husband ended up in the ER over his dose - he vomited blood. It will cost us several hundred dollars and we just have to pay it.

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: sandylc

                                                                    i'm sorry. I know how frustrating that situation is. i never had it that badly but i know how helpless it can feel.

                                                                  2. I'd definitely contact the restaurant, and I'd also ask if they'd had any other calls from customers who had bad experiences like yours.

                                                                    This might sound strange, but I've sworn off lemons in my water at most restaurants because I am convinced that unwashed lemons have been the source of way too many stomach disasters of mine. And whatever it is that affects me in that way does so in a matter of minutes -- after I've left the restaurant and before I've arrived home, of course.

                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                    1. re: CindyJ

                                                                      Cindy, if you like lemon water, buy the packets of Tru-Lemon and keep a few in your purse. They contain very little powder (each = a lemon wedge) so there's no issue of weight or room, and they do taste like REAL lemon, not Realemon.