>U Mom Knows Best: What to Do if You Experience Food Poisoning

Thursday, February 23, 2023

What to Do if You Experience Food Poisoning

When it comes to tracing the origin of food-borne illnesses, there are two main vehicles:

  • Microbes such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites
  • Harmful chemicals and toxins

 In addition to eating foods containing such pathogens, people can come down with food poisoning, as food-borne illnesses are also known, by drinking contaminated water, swimming in contaminated rivers or lakes, or contracting it through human-to-human or animal-to-human spread. In addition, widespread food poisoning outbreaks are caused by the use of fertilizers containing manure from bacteria-laden livestock or birds.

What Constitutes an Outbreak of Food Poisoning?

When as few as two individuals are found to become sick from eating the same contaminated food, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) considers it a food-borne illness outbreak. When two or more people are determined to fall ill in several states, it's declared a multi-state outbreak. Many multi-state outbreaks are found to be caused by the use of manure from bacteria-laden livestock or birds to fertilize crops like lettuce or fruit, which are then shipped to stores all over the country.

Since the incubation period for most pathogens can range from a couple of hours to a week, it often takes a while for an outbreak to spread. And it's not always freshly picked produce that makes people ill, juice made from contaminated juices can precipitate widespread outbreaks, as can alfalfa sprouts which, while not sown in the ground, are grown in damp low light atmospheres that favor pathogens. 

How is the Public Notified about Food Poisoning Outbreaks?

Once local public health officials are made aware of an apparent outbreak, they will notify the FDA if the suspected source is a vegetable, fruit, or product containing them. If it is meat, poultry, eggs, or fish, they will let the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) know. 

The first step is for the agency to ask the producer or distributor to voluntarily issue a product recall. In some cases, either agency may mandate the recall or issue it themselves. At this point, the media will be enlisted to spread the word to the public in an effort to prevent further spread. This is extremely important since food poisoning can be especially dangerous for pregnant women and anyone with a compromised immune system due to chronic illness or medical treatment they are undergoing.

At the same time, an FDA CORE Response Team will be dispatched to investigate. The team will explore all avenues and stages, from where the ingredients were sourced to where they were packaged and processed to how they were distributed. If the outbreak investigation concludes in a determination that the public should take actionable specific steps to protect themselves, the agency will issue a public health advisory.

However, in cases, where the proceedings can not identify a link between a source and the outbreak, it will not result in a recommendation of actionable steps to be taken. When this happens, the agency will issue a report that while it will not name a specific product, will indicate a food category to avoid for the time being.

What You Can Do

Since all these investigations rely on self-reported data, in cases where you have become ill after eating a specific food and suspect it is contaminated, you should notify your public health department since you may not be the only one. This applies whether you or a loved one fell ill after eating food bought at a local supermarket and prepared at home if you get sick after a meal you ate at a restaurant.

If the food resulted in a case of food poisoning, you may be able to hold the supermarket or restaurant responsible. So in addition to reporting the incident to the health department, you should speak to a lawyer to find out more here about whether you have a legal claim to seek reimbursement for your medical expenses and other damages.

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