An unreported epidemic: Food Poisoning
Here’s a quick update on that bout of food poisoning I experienced over the weekend: I was a victim of what is largely an unreported epidemic.
It’s not that the Saginaw County restaurant I ate at is a suspected source in any other cases but mine. It’s that the foodborne illness I experienced – commonly called food poisoning – is a considerable public health issue.
On the advice of several people who heard about my bout, I ended up reporting my case to both the restaurant and the local health department.
The restaurant manager I spoke to seemed genuinely concerned and said he would look into the matter. I gave him all the details of the meal I had. He apologized profusely and even offered me a free dinner coupon, which I refused. I told him I understood things like this happened and I just wanted him to be aware of my illness should there be a problem with the meat supply from the item I ordered.
I also called the Saginaw County (MI) Health Department and was impressed by the seriousness with which they took my report. I chuckled when the environmental health investigator asked if I knew what I had been eating for the three days previously. “As a matter of fact, I do,” I replied, calling up the MyNetDiary food program which I use to log every meal.
Armed with my information, the health investigator said he will do an in inspection of the facility to see if he can identify anything that needs to be tightened up to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.
The issue of foodborne illnesses is serious.
It is estimated that only 4% to 10% of of foodborne illness cases are reported, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. And while my symptoms were severe – I can’t think of when, if ever, I was sicker – I recovered in about a day. I was lucky. The CDC estimates that foodborne diseases cause approximately 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths in the United States each year.
More than 200 known diseases are transmitted through food, including noroviruses, bacteria, parasites, toxins, metals, and prions, and the symptoms of foodborne illness range from mild gastroenteritis to life-threatening neurologic, hepatic, and renal syndromes.
The Food and Drug Administration estimates that two to three percent of all foodborne illnesses lead to serious secondary long-term illnesses. For example, reports the food safety website FightBac, “certain strains of E.coli can cause kidney failure in young children and infants; Salmonella can lead to reactive arthritis and serious infections; Listeria can cause meningitis and stillbirths; and Campylobacter may be the most common precipitating factor for a debilitating disease, Guillain-Barre syndrome.”
The first step in fighting food poisoning is knowing about it and, as the CDC points out, not reporting suspected cases is the main factor so many suffer so much.
Because symptoms seldom are immediate – mine kicked in six hours after I ate the garlic steak dinner – a lot of people just think they have the flu. In fact, most cases of what people think is the flu isn’t that at all, it’s food poisoning. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, muscle aches, dizziness, tiredness, weakness, and fever.
Bottom line: If you suspect you have a food borne illness, contact the local health department.