I am not a doctor, but as a chef I know a thing or two about food safety. And when I hear about people getting sick from eating at some restaurant I tend to be a little skeptical. Why? I'll tell you.
The first reason is the fact that most food-borne illnesses occurs from food consumed at home, not in restaurants. Just playing the odds would seem to point to whatever was crawling on the week old take-out you ate as the culprit, no matter how “icky” the place you got it from was.
The second reason I'm skeptical about restaurant food poisoning is timelines. I often hear something to the effect of, “I ate diner at such-and-such a place and that night I was so sick.”
Not to downplay anyone’s misery, but blaming the place that you had dinner for getting sick that same night is illogical, if you're referring to the normal type of food-borne illness. You can get other types of illnesses like chemical poisoning the same night, but that is far less common.
The bugs that make you sick need time to gestate. It typically takes 24-48 hours to feel the effects of food poisoning, not two or three. So if you are feeling sick at night and think it might be from food, try looking at what you had for dinner, lunch or possibly even breakfast the day before.
I do not take food poisoning lightly. More than 5,000 people a year die from it in the United States. I am a recent victim of food poisoning—and it's not a fun time. But I encourage everyone to take a fair-handed approach to assumptions of food poisoning and make sure the timelines are in order before accusations start flying. If a restaurant is at fault, a whole bunch of people get sick and that normally makes the news.
Also, remember that most cases of food-borne illness come from some place other than a restaurant. Like leaving the pizza out all night and then having it for breakfast.
Click here for some good tips about food myths from Alaska's Division of Environmental Health
Randy King is a Chef and Writer who works for Sysco Idaho. He can be typically be found behind a stove making a mess…and something delicious to eat.