No, that restaurant did not give you food poisoning!

“I won’t eat at that restaurant again because I got food poisoning the last time I went there.”

I find myself extremely irritated every time I hear somebody say something like that. A series of questions always runs through my head: Are you a doctor? Did you go to the doctor? Did you report the alleged poisoning to the health department? Food poisoning is such a serious thing that stating that a restaurant “gave you food poisoning” can permanently damage a restaurant and sometimes cause them to go out of business forever. The truth of the matter is that this is not typically how it works.

I found the issue of addressing this complaint so important, they I spent some time talking to the Kent County Health Department about how this actually works.

Although the health department said that it is possible that someone might feel the immediate effects of certain types of food poisoning, the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of all of food related sickness was due to something that you ingested 12 to 48 hours prior to feeling symptoms. The last restaurant that you went to was simply the unfortunate recipient of the blame because they are the last place that you put food into your already contaminated gastrointestinal system. The health department refers to this as “Last Meal Bias”.

When somebody actually goes to the trouble of reporting food poisoning to the health department, the health department conducts a 72 hour food history with the reporting individual. If there are multiple reports of food poisoning, The health department cross-references the complaints to see if there are common factors that might reveal the actual cause of the illness.

The woman who I talked to at the health department related to me a story about two separate people who had individually complained the same day about meals at different restaurants that had allegedly given them food poisoning. Upon getting the 72 hour food history from both of these individuals, it was found out that the day before that both of these individuals had attended the same catered food event. When they dug into this further, they found that there were several more people who had been at that catered event and had also become ill. It was clear that the sickness had been caused by the caterer, and not the two restaurants in question.

She also related to me another story about several people who all gotten sick at the same restaurant. The restaurant voluntarily closed their doors for a few days to sanitize all of their equipment and make sure that they were not the problem. During the time that the health department was investigating the issue, the restaurant had suffered a great deal of negative press and it was extremely damaging to their restaurant’s business. The health department ultimately determined that it was a patron who had brought the illness into the facility and then passed it on to everybody else.

So, the next time that you are feeling ill after going out to eat, please don’t blame the last restaurant that you were at. They more than likely did not cause your illness. You may very well be causing permanent damage to a place that you very much enjoyed eating, but are mistakenly accusing them of something that they did not do.

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