An Overview of Food Poisoning

Americans are being poisoned at an alarming rate due to food-born illness. Scientists have determined that there are well over 250 food-related types of illness from viruses to bacteria to parasites. According to the Center for Disease Control, the Norwalk-like viruses which are famous for sickening cruise ships are among the most common food poisons followed by the campylobacter and salmonella. Campylobacter is blamed for about 14% and salmonella is responsible for approximately 10% of all food poisonings. Furthermore, according for Center of Disease Control there are 320,000 hospitalizations each year due to food poisoning and as many as 5,000 deaths. Recently there have been a great deal of high profile food poisonings, many of which Gary A. Newland a partner in Newland & Newland, LLP has been at the forefront of proceeding against food manufacturers, distributors and/or restaurants. It has been determined by health officials that for every salmonella case that is reported there is 3 dozen unreported cases.

Perhaps one of the greatest unrecognized hazards is toxins from seafood. They can come from a multiple of factors such as global warming, coral reef damage and spread of toxins in general. Ciguatera fish poisoning and shell fish poisoning are caused by potent toxins that originate in small marine organisms known as dinofalgellates and diatoms and scombroid poisoning is caused by eating improperly chilled fish that contains large quantities of histamine. The risk of gambierdiscus toxicus, which produces ciguatoxin, tends to proliferate on dead coral reefs and unfortunately it is like to increase as more coral reefs die as a result of factors such as global warming, oil spills and other man-made issues such as nutrient run-off. With respect to eating contaminated fish the symptoms usually appear 1-3 hours after ingesting such fish and it is common to see nausea, vomiting and diarrhea along with acute abdominal pain. In many types of food poisoning it is not unusual to see symptoms for 72 hours.

Neurologic symptoms related to poisoning from eating toxic fish can include pain in the teeth or the sensation that the teeth are loose, itching, a metallic taste and vision can be affected as well. As bizarre as it may seem, temperature reversal can also be symptoms wherein a person can feel cold when they are really hot. Neurological symptoms can usually last a few days or several weeks. In some people, chronic neuro-psychiatric symptoms resembling chronic fatigue syndrome can last months and result in depression and even cardiac issues. Mortality from Ciguatera poisoning is less than 1%.

Just like other types of food poisoning, poisoning from fish should be detected and there are commercial kits available to test for Ciguatera poisoning. There is no specific antidote for Ciguatoxins or Maitotoxins and treatment can only be symptomatic and supportive.

Another type of seafood poisoning is called scombroid poisoning. It is in fact one of the most common poisonings and occurs world-wide in temperate and tropical waters. It is generally caused by eating fish that has not been properly refrigerated. Consequently, the cause of scombroid poisoning can be a result of ingesting the following fish: tuna, mackerel, mahi mahi, sardines, anchovies, herring, bluefish, amberjack and marlin. The histamine in those fish is converted to histamine by a bacterial overgrowth in fish that has been improperly stored after capture. The histamine and / or other scambrotoxins are resistant to the freezing process, canning, smoking and even cooking. Scombroid poisoning symptoms typically surface within 10-60 minutes of eating contaminated fish; one’s face becomes flushed, appears to be sunburned, severe headaches, palpitations, itching and blurred vision, abdominal cramps and diarrhea result. Untreated symptoms usually resolve within 12 hours.

With respect to shellfish poisoning there are several forms of poisoning associated with shellfish. All seem to occur after ingesting filter feeding mollusks, such as oysters, mussels, scallops, clams and cockles that contain potent toxins. These toxins actually originate in small marine organisms that are ingested and build up in the shellfish. Typically illness starts to appear about 30-60 minutes after ingesting toxic shellfish. Shellfish should not be consumed particularly after “red tides.” In fact, when travelling in developing countries you should avoid eating all shellfish as they contain high risk of contamination and the toxins cannot be eliminated by cooking.

Botulism is a very serious form of food poisoning. The symptoms appear within 6 hours and last up to 10 days, although mostly common for duration of 12-36 hours after eating contaminated food. Symptoms of botulism include double vision, dropping eyelids blurred vision, slurred speech, dry mouth, difficulty swallowing, as well as issues that seem to affect the shoulder and upper arms. Lower extremities can also be affected. It can ultimately result in paralysis of breathing and mechanical ventilation may be required to keep the patient alive. The bacteria associated with botulism is clostridium botulinum. Botulism is often caused from home canned foods with low acid content such as asparagus, green beans and corn. Although botulism has also been reported coming from sources such as chopped garlic, oil, tomatoes, and chili peppers and improperly handled or baked potatoes. Fortunately the botulism bacteria can be eliminated by cooking at high temperatures. Botulism is so deadly that even a small case can make you very ill.

The issues related to causation of food poisoning can be very complex. It is important that when you hire an attorney to evaluate your case that they be experienced with food poisoning and understand the nature and extent of your suffering. Currently Newland & Newland, LLP represents many clients who have suffered from food poisoning related to The Taste of Chicago, tainted salami from Costco, Subway Restaurants and many other food poisonings caused by the mishandling of food. As a general rule, if one has been poisoned by food it is because food has been improperly handled. There are standards to be held in all industries related to food and when these standards are not followed that is when the consumer gets sick. Certain types of food increase the odds of one getting ill. Food-bourn illnesses create a public health emergency. Senior citizens and small children are more susceptible to severe reactions and it is not unusual for such illnesses to cause permanent injury or death in those more vulnerable.

Fortunately there are laws in our country to protect consumers from becoming ill from defective products such as tainted foods. Should you have any questions, please feel free to contact us.

  • Newland & Newland LLP, Attorneys, Arlington Heights, IL