Are Public Dining Facilities Making People Sick?

May 17, 2016 - Personal Injury, Tuscaloosa by

With the Food and Drug Administration and even our local health departments on the job, it is logical to assume that the food we eat is generally safe. While no Tuscaloosa injury attorney at our firm would advise clients to view all food with suspicion, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that foodborne diseases cause nearly 797,000 illnesses, 2,000 hospitalizations and 50 deaths each year, according to Alabama Public Health.

When more than one person experiences gastrointestinal symptoms after eating the same food from a public facility or even from their own kitchens, it is probably not a case of stomach flu.

One Kitchen Allegedly Sickened 86 Alabama Children at a Daycare

In June 2015, WHNT News reported that 86 children under the age of 10 sought hospital treatment after suffering significant digestive upsets at their daycare center. As many as 30 of the students were hospitalized. The illness came from two facilities that were both served by the same kitchen.

Investigative testing revealed Staphylococcus Aureus Toxin (known to cause staph infections) in foods from both facilities. However, some questions appeared to remain pertaining to the possibility of food cross-contamination, since the samples came from garbage cans within the facilities. Still, the children displayed the following symptoms, which are common to staph infections:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Cramps
  • Lethargy

The Staphylococcus Aureus Toxin is a bacterium that is commonly caused when handlers contaminate food products that require no additional cooking, such as salads and sandwiches. Contamination can come from the hands, food preparation equipment and work surfaces, and the bacteria multiplies quickly at room temperature. In this particular case, the presence of the bacteria could point to improper food handling, but it could also have been caused by lack of temperature control or other sources during the time the food was transported to the two facilities.

Foodborne Illnesses Are Typically Underreported

When so many children become ill at the same time, it is generally obvious that the food they all consumed may represent the causes of their illness. Still, it is just as likely that only one person in a family happened to choose a restaurant meal containing a tainted food item. In these instances, that person more likely assumes that stomach flu is to blame, which is why news reports often do not exist for some foodborne illnesses.

With proper rest and fluid replacement, normally-healthy people generally recover from foodborne illnesses within a day or two. However, the illnesses can cause severe complications for unborn babies, and very young or older sufferers can potentially experience kidney damage or failure from certain bacterial strains.

It is best to err on the side of caution and see a doctor for this type of illness. Additionally, if there is any question about whether an infection might have been caused by food at a recently-visited restaurant, seek advice from an attorney who may have additional information about these concerns.

Additional Resources:

Is It Foodborne Illness or the Stomach Flu? Stony Brook University, 9/15/2015

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