If you start experiencing the symptoms of food poisoning, what should you do? Ryan Osterholm, one of the attorneys at Pritzker Olsen, was interviewed by THELAW.TV in Houston and has good advice.
First of all, the food you just finished eating most likely did not make you sick, which is contrary to what most people believe. Most pathogens, whether bacteria, viruses, or parasites, have an incubation period of at least 12 to 24 hours. Listeria, for instance, can incubate for 70 days before you start experiencing symptoms of illness. The first step is to go to the doctor. She will run tests, such as a stool sample, and should be able to pinpoint what has made you sick, and can prescribe antibiotics or other medication to make you feel better.
If you got sick from restaurant food, there are most likely others who are sick as well. The exact pathogen must be determined. To be considered part of an outbreak, the bacteria that sickened you will be matched to others using a DNA test called PFGE. If that specific strain of bacteria is found at the restaurant, whether on the food, in the environment, or from an ill employee, there is little doubt that you got sick from eating at that facility.
Saving the food you think made you sick isn’t generally very helpful, because it’s hard to culture out specific bacteria in a food. Receipts and credit card statements proving you ate at a particular restaurant on a specific date are more important, although the paper trail isn’t necessary to prove a claim.
When you call an attorney about suing a restaurant, the pathogen that sickened you is tested, and the lawyers make sure the serotype is determined. Health department records showing PFGE tests will be accessed. The time frame of your exposure, date of illness onset, and strain of bacteria are the critical pieces of evidence to prove a claim against a restaurant or food supplier.