Health officials from the federal government and Clark County in Washington State have been investigating a Salmonella paratyphi outbreak believed to be associated with raw tuna used for sushi. The investigation, which began in September, has resulted in the recall of raw frozen tuna loins that were contaminated with the bacteria known to cause vomiting, diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramping.
The outbreak is believed to have sickened at least 30 people across seven states, including California. The investigation focused on raw tuna due to the fact that many of the sickened patients reporting eating raw sushi before coming down with symptoms. While the strains of Salmonella in the recalled tuna and those in the sickened patients, were not found to be the same, the investigation highlights a fact that many people would be surprised to learn. Namely that Salmonella infection isn’t limited to those who consume poultry or beef products.
Salmonella, the Basics
Salmonella is a food-borne illness that primarily affects the intestinal tract. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the time between exposure to tainted food and the onset of symptoms can take between 12 and 72 hours.
As anyone who’s had food poisoning can attest, the experience is extremely unpleasant, with symptoms lingering for as many as seven days. While most folks that get sick will recover without medical intervention, there are cases where diarrhea is so severe, a person requires hospitalization. Occasionally, the infection can spread from the intestines to the blood or other organs, which could also require hospitalization.
The CDC pegs the number of people who get sick from Salmonella at 1.2 million annually, with approximately 450 people dying from the illness each year. Children under the age of five, the elderly, and people with weakened immune symptoms are most at risk for severe infections.
Salmonella, Not Just from Chickens
What makes the conversation about Salmonella and sushi important, is the fact that fish, unlike chickens or cows, don’t carry Salmonella. This means, in the case of the recalled raw frozen tuna loins and steaks, the Salmonella must have been introduced at some point in the distribution or preparation process. While investigators have yet to announce how that happened in this particular case, Salmonella can be introduced to fish through polluted waters, cross-contamination with chicken or beef at a processing plant, or it’s possible that someone, either in the processing plant or restaurant, didn’t follow standard hygienic procedures. While raw tuna is deep frozen to kill parasites, freezing does not kill Salmonella. In some cases, raw tuna will be frozen and thawed multiple times before it reaches the consumer, in which case, more bacteria can grow.
Should You Contact a Lawyer if You’ve Experienced Food Poisoning?
While food poisoning is relatively common and typically only a nuisance for most, there are times when food illness can result in serious health issues and long-term complications. This can affect a person’s work and family life, result in soaring healthcare costs, and prolonged suffering. Depending on the specifics of the case, a person who has experienced food poisoning might be in a position to file a claim, whether it be against a restaurant, distributor, or another party in the chain. It is for this reason, that if a person suspects they have been poisoned by food, they should contact a personal injury attorney.
What the Law Says
Personal injury law is complex, and there are any number of things to consider when deciding whether or not to file a lawsuit. Luckily, the law and the courts have provided consumers clear protections when it comes to the preparation and sale of food. Of particular significance to this discussion is a case heard by the Supreme Court of California in 1992. Back then, the court was reviewing a claim by a restaurant customer who was injured by a chicken bone left in an enchilada.
In that case, the court decided that an injury-producing substance natural to the food served (chicken bones being natural to chicken dishes), an injured plaintiff wouldn’t have a cause of action.
But the court added, “If, however, the presence of the natural substance is due to the restaurateur’s failure to exercise due care in food preparation, the injured patron may sue under a negligence theory.”
This means a restaurant that fails to follow proper food preparation procedures, or a food processor that cross contaminates its product, or a distributor that fails to properly refrigerate its freight, could potentially be sued for negligence if a customer gets sick as a result of the negligence.
Because of the variables that can be involved in a food poisoning case, a good personal injury attorney is vital to figuring out the best way to proceed. If you were sickened by food you believe was negligently sold or prepared, contact our office to see how we can help.