Roughly 1 in 6 Americans Suffer From Food Poisoning Illnesses Each Year
Salmonella, e. coli and listeria are among the pathogens that can contaminate food, leaving the people who consume it sick – sometimes seriously, suffering from a severe illness that can include long-term health consequences. A serious bout of food poisoning can also leave a victim with significant medical expenses, lost wages and other problems.
Food poisoning causes about 48 million people to get sick, 128,000 hospitalizations, and up to 3,000 deaths each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Salmonella alone, one of the most common forms of food poisoning, accounts for medical costs and lost work time of about $1 billion.
Everything from tainted lettuce, contaminated meat and even defective children's snack foods has been implicated in large-scale food poisoning outbreaks.
Bacteria and viruses can contaminate food in many ways. Poor sanitation or preparation is a key way. For example, food handlers who do not wash their hands after using the bathroom or who have infections themselves can cause food-borne illnesses. Manufacturers that do not maintain sanitary conditions at factories or packing plants can cause food poisoning. Fruits and vegetables can become contaminated with bacteria while still in the fields as a result of exposure to animal waste. Improperly packaged food stored at the wrong temperature also promotes contamination.
Bacteria that Frequently Cause Food Poisoning
Bacteria are one of the most common causes of food borne illnesses, which each type offering its own host of adverse reactions and consequences. A wide range of tainted food can pose danger, including peanut butter, meat, seafood and lettuce. Salmonella – which is transmitted by undercooked foods, such as eggs, poultry, dairy products, and seafood – is a common type of food poisoning; it can cause a moderate illness with nausea, vomiting, cramps/diarrhea, and headaches, which may return a few weeks later in the form of arthritis (joint pains). Salmonella can, however, become a life-threatening malady for people with impaired immune systems (such as those with kidney disease or HIV/AIDS, as well as those on chemotherapy for cancer).
E. coli O157:H7 is one of hundreds of strains of the bacterium Escherichia coli. Although most strains are harmless, this particular one infects about 73,000 and causes some 61 deaths in the United States each year. E. coli causes moderate to severe illness that begins as watery diarrhea, but progresses into bloody diarrhea. The more virulent E. coli O15:H7 can cause kidney failure and death (about 3-5% of all cases). It is transmitted by eating raw or undercooked hamburger, unpasteurized milk or juices, or contaminated well water.
Listeria is a bacterium found in soil, vegetation, raw milk, meat, poultry, cheeses (particularly the soft mould-ripened varieties) and salad vegetables. Listeria symptoms can vary from a mild flu-like illness to meningitis and septicemia. In pregnant women, Listeria can cause a miscarriage or the birth of an infected child, and even require an abortion. Other people at risk of a bad strain are those with compromised immune systems, including the very young and the very old.
Viruses that Cause Food Poisoning
Viruses are a major cause of food borne illnesses. In many instances, viruses contaminate food because food industry workers do not take precautions to insure a sanitary environment. One such virus that can be passed in this manner is the Norwalk Virus, which causes a mild illness that induces nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, headache, and low-grade fever. It is the most common viral cause of adult food poisoning and is transmitted from water, shellfish, and vegetables contaminated by feces, as well as from person to person.
Hepatitis A is another virus that can be transmitted via food. Hepatitis A causes mild illness with sudden onset of fever, loss of appetite, and feelings of tiredness; these usually are followed by jaundice, which is a yellowing of the eyes and skin. In extreme cases, Hepatitis A can cause one to need a liver transplant; it also can cause death. It is transmitted from person to person by fecal contamination of food. In the past, infected waiters have passed Hepatitis A on to restaurant patrons. The largest Hepatitis A outbreak in U.S. history occurred in 2005 at Chi-Chi's Mexican Restaurant in Pennsylvania. More than 500 people contracted Hepatitis A – three of whom died –after eating at the restaurant. The outbreak was linked to tainted green onions.
Rotavirus is another virus that can be passed through contaminated food. Rotavirus causes moderate to severe illness, with vomiting, followed by watery diarrhea and fever. It is the most common cause of food poisoning in infants and children and is transmitted from person to person by fecal contamination of food and shared play areas.
Food Poisoning can Have Long-Term Adverse Health Effects
A bout of food poisoning can cause serious long-term health problems; some victims will still be dealing with the consequences of food borne illnesses months and even years after the initial illness.
E. coli victims sometimes require kidney transplants. They may also have scarred intestines, which can cause lasting digestive difficulty. Even e. coli patients who supposedly recovered can eventually experience long-term health problems. About 10 percent of e. coli sufferers develop a serious complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome, or HUS, where their kidneys and other organs fail.
Salmonella also has potential long-term health consequences. Some victims of Salmonella will develop a disease called Reiter's Syndrome, a difficult-to-treat form of reactive arthritis that causes severe joint pain, irritation of the eyes, and painful urination. Reiter's Syndrome can plague its victims for months or years, and can lead to chronic arthritis. Certain strains of shigella and yersinia bacteria, which are far more common abroad than in the U.S., can also trigger Reiter's Syndrome.
About 1 in 1,000 sufferers of campylobacter, a diarrhea-causing infection spread by raw poultry, develop the far more serious Guillain-Barre syndrome within a month or so. Their body attacks their nerves, causing paralysis that usually requires intensive care and a ventilator to breathe. It is estimated that about a third of the nation's Guillain-Barre cases have been linked to previous instances of campylobacter, even if the diarrhea was very mild, and they typically suffer a more severe case than patients who never had food poisoning.
Get Help from a Professional Food Attorney
If you think you or a loved one are eligible for a tainted food lawsuit, please fill out the form at the right for a free case evaluation by one of our qualified personal injury attorneys. The food poisoning attorneys at our firm are committed to helping victims of food borne illnesses receive the compensation they deserve.