San Francisco Chronicle reports that the Center for Disease Control estimates that Americans experience 76 million food-borne illnesses a year.
Unfortunately, very few of those incidents are reported, and even fewer are confirmed by laboratory tests. The symptoms are typically similar to those that accompany the flu: diarrhea, vomiting, stomach cramps. Many don’t bother going to a doctor, and of those that do, lab test costs deter them from asking for food-borne illness tests.
Although most people tend to blame the last meal they ate as the culprit, pathogens that cause food-borne illnesses typically take 24 to 48 hours to cause symptoms. Despite the challenges of pinpointing the cause of your distress, public-health authorities still suggest that you report an illness you attribute to a restaurant meal, but to include not just the last place you ate.
Since 2000, California law has required at least one employee in every restaurant to be certified as a safe food handler. Many restaurants send more than one employee for training and certification.
If you believe your symptoms could be caused by a restaurant meal, call the restaurant so that they can investigate. Be prepared to tell the restaurant exactly what you ate and drank, what time you dined, and whether anyone who ate with you also experienced symptoms.
You also shouldn’t expect anything more than a sympathetic hearing, an assurance that the restaurant will review its procedures, and a genuine thank-you for taking the trouble to call – after all, you do not have any proof, and it could just be standard stomach upset from eating too much or eating foods that are richer than normal. But alerting the restaurant could mean the difference between a few people having a tummy ache and a more severe outbreak.