What to do if you get food poisoning from a restaurant
Our chief specialist in food science, Dr Linda Gordon was recently on Lunchtime Live with Andrea Gilligan, Newstalk radio, discussing what to do if you think you have food poisoning from a restaurant. Here’s an outline of the conversation.
What should you do if you have food poisoning from eating out at a restaurant?
Anybody who feels that they are suffering from food poisoning can contact their GP. If they think it's related to a particular premises or particular food type that they bought, they can contact either the Food Safety Authority of Ireland or their local Environmental Health Office through the HSE.
Should you contact the establishment directly?
It's very difficult to say where we got food poisoning from. We tend to blame our last meal, particularly if we've eaten out and think we have food poisoning from a restaurant, but that's not always the case. Sometimes it is, but not always. So it might be better to go through the proper channels.
If you do think you have food poisoning go to the GP, because they may be able to send a sample to a laboratory and identify what caused it. You can also contact environmental health at the HSE, and they will determine whether a food premises needs to be investigated.
Do people commonly go to the doctor when they have food poisoning?
It’s very difficult to get true figures for food poisoning, because most of the time we don't go to the doctor. Also, not all cases of vomiting and diarrhoea come from food. They can come from person-to-person spread or contaminated water.
If a few people have food poisoning symptoms and ate the same thing, and the people who ate something else didn't get sick, then that's when people are more likely to go to the GP and then contact the environmental health officer.
But for most people vomiting and diarrhoea is a mild illness, and they’ll recover well without any medical attention.
Do you need a letter from a doctor to prove you had food poisoning and should you then go back to the restaurant you suspect you got it from?
You might think it's very likely you got food poisoning from a restaurant, but this is very difficult to prove. The best thing would be to go to the GP and then contact the local Environmental Health Officer. If the food was bought and eaten at home, you could seal the item and keep it so when you contact the HSE, they can send it for testing.
Is it a myth that you get sick immediately after eating contaminated food when you suffer food poisoning?
It depends what caused it. Food poisoning isn't one illness. It's a very broad term that covers illness contracted through eating food that could be contaminated with a whole range of bacteria and viruses. So how long it will take to become ill depends on the type of bacterium or the virus. Sometimes you become ill in a matter of hours. We usually see that where a toxin is produced in the food. Others can take up to a few days. Listeria can take a few weeks to incubate. It really depends on what bacterium or toxin is involved.
How long does it take to recover from food poisoning?
Again, it depends on the organism that caused it. Some of them will be more of a 24-hour thing, whereas others will last a bit longer and have more severe symptoms.
Do you have an obligation to notify the establishment or the HSE if you think you got food poisoning from a restaurant, particularly if it's very serious?
You don't have an obligation. It's up to you whether you want to take it further.
Is it important to contact them straight away?
Yes, the earlier the better. They may get notifications of this problem from other people as well, so the more information they have, the easier their job is. But like I say, we do tend to always blame the meal we ate in the restaurant, and sometimes we don't pay enough attention to practices in our own kitchen.