Food Poisoning: When After-Effects Last and Last

Jay Stillman

4 min read

At Stillman and Friedland, from time to time, we get calls that start with something like this:

“My friend and I grabbed lunch at a local restaurant and I started feeling sick soon after we finished. By the next day, I was in the E.R. with a gut mess and severe dehydration. I was knocked off my feet for days, and I’m still not back to myself. Do you think I have a case?”

Untreated dysentery can be fatal, so do not think this is a frivolous lawsuit. If we can prove you have food poisoning diagnosed as such by hospital or doctor, and that it came from a certain restaurant, the answer is yes. But the question after becomes, “which case”? Let us explain.

With food poisoning, there are two scenarios. In the first case, after an exposure to bad bacteria, you can sue for pain and suffering, medical costs, and also lost wages if you were incapacitated and could not work. In many cases, however, that is not the end of the story.

Here is the second scenario:

There is a well-documented effect that may occur after someone experiences food-poisoning dysentery or other exposure to hostile bacteria. Some bacteria may colonize your intestines and stay there or cause long-term damage, resulting in lasting irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Instead of being a one-off short period of sickness, you may be ill for the long term. In one follow-up study after mass infection from a contaminated local water supply, significant effects were measurable eight years following the exposure. Since the study was conducted at the eight-year mark after the exposure, that is a minimum estimate. This is referred to as postinfectious irritable bowel syndrome (PI-IBS). In some cases, the IBS may be so severe that you are, in fact, disabled.

If you are still sick several months later, it is worth your while to pursue a claim which seeks compensation for the long-term results of the bacterial exposure. Because IBS is episodic, it is important to document each of your episodes with a record of doctor’s appointments.

Is there anything you can do to alleviate IBS?

Stress reduction and cleaning up your diet go a long way to bring you back to better health. Women are more prone to IBS; pursuing low-key physical exercise, such as walking, tai chi, or yoga may help reduce IBS attacks. Keeping a food diary will help you pinpoint “trigger” foods, such as sugar, gluten, and possibly dairy. There are documented cases of patients becoming lactose-intolerant after contracting PI-IBS. Because everyone is different, a food diary is your best tool to “bio-hack” your own bodily symptoms and stay well.

Once bitten, twice shy! Can you avoid food poisoning? According to medical sources, in the U.S. the most common form of bacterial dysentery is the Shigella bacterium, with cases also caused by Campylobacter, E.coli, and Salmonella.

The main factor in spreading the infection is poor hygiene.

According to MedBroadcast:

“Shigella and Campylobacter bacteria that cause bacillary dysentery are found all over the world. They penetrate the lining of the intestine, causing swelling, ulcerations, and severe diarrhea containing blood and pus. Both infections are spread by ingestion of feces within contaminated food and water…”

  • In your home environment, you know to wash your hands carefully.
  • Handle foods that spoil easily with proper cooling and storage.
  • Some products are more prone to bacterial contamination. Pre-washed and -cut vegetables may be a source of E. coli, so wash well and preferably cook them.
  • Many stores sell special soap to clean fruits and vegetables. These are effective in removing dirt, germs and some pesticide residues.
  • Dining out is different. Restaurant employees are also mandated to wash their hands with soap after using the restroom, but compliance may not be 100%. Other factors enter into the mix.
  • If you see that poultry is not fully cooked, send it back and get a clean fork and knife.
  • Paradoxically, while burger fast-food restaurants have been much maligned for food quality, shops with a viewable kitchen and universal standards are generally cleaner than Mom-and-Pop places where you have no idea what is going on in the back.
  • Outside of the home choices are poorer and you have little control, so opt for hot foods when appropriate.
  • More high-volume restaurants have faster turnover of raw ingredients. Avoid items like seafood in a restaurant with low turnover.

If you do contract food poisoning, alert your local public health authority, and utilize your rights by consulting with an experienced attorney. We wish you good dining and good health!

Because we care…