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Chipotle Fined $25 Million for Repeated Food Poisoning OutbreaksRestaurants are the source of numerous food poisoning incidents each year for which they may or may not be responsible. Sometimes, the restaurant will unknowingly use contaminated food and the food supplier is the liable party. Other times, the restaurant may have caused the incident if it was negligent in safely preparing the food or maintaining a clean kitchen. If a single restaurant or chain of restaurants is involved in multiple food poisoning incidents, health officials may investigate the food safety practices of the restaurants. Officials can even recommend that criminal charges be brought against the restaurant for serving contaminated food.

Chipotle Pays Record Fine

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Central District of California fined Chipotle Mexican Grill $25 million for two counts of severing adulterated food in its restaurant. Chipotle agreed to pay the fine – which is the largest ever for a food safety case – and claimed that it has already spent millions more to improve its food safety practices. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration traced at least five food poisoning outbreaks to the restaurant from 2015 to 2018 that are believed to have sickened more than 1,100 people. The cases included multiple norovirus outbreaks in different restaurants across the country. The allegations against the company included:

  • Improper training of employees in food safety practices
  • Not keeping food at high enough temperatures to prevent the spread of pathogens
  • Employees feeling pressured to continue working despite feeling sick
  • Restaurant managers not reporting incidents of employees vomiting at work to company safety officials until after customers complained about becoming sick

Norovirus is a pathogen that can be easily spread in a restaurant if infected employees are handling the food. Symptoms from norovirus can take 12 to 48 hours to develop and include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration. Most patients improve in one-to-three days.

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Uncooked Shrimp Can Contain Harmful BacteriaThere are cultures in which raw shrimp is considered a delicacy. However, food scientists do not recommend eating raw shrimp because of the risk of food poisoning. Shrimp can carry bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Normally, cooking shrimp will be enough to kill the contaminants that naturally appear, making them safe to eat. However, pre-cooked shrimp served and sold in retail establishments have been known to carry bacteria and viruses that can cause people to become ill upon eating them.

Cooked Shrimp Recalled Due to Bacteria

In March, AFC Distribution Corp. recalled its Cooked Butterfly Tail-On Whiteleg Shrimp because it may have been contaminated with Vibrio parahaemolyticus. The shrimp were used as an ingredient for sushi sold at retailers in dozens of states, including Illinois. There were no reported illnesses related to the shrimp at the time of the recall.

Vibrio parahaemolyticus is a bacteria found in saltwater and raw shellfish. Symptoms typically last up to seven days and may include:

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Mushroom Listeria Case Causes Four DeathsThere are numerous mushrooms that grow in the wild that are poisonous, and it is difficult to tell the difference between a safe and deadly wild mushroom. Health professionals recommend that consumers only eat mushrooms that they buy in a store or are served in a restaurant. However, it is still possible to get food poisoning from eating store-bought mushrooms. A recent listeria outbreak linked to packaged mushrooms resulted in four deaths and 30 hospitalizations.

Outbreak Details

Sun Hong Foods recalled its packages of enoki mushrooms on March 9 due to potential listeria contamination. Thirty-six people across more than a dozen states had reportedly become ill with listeriosis, and half of the patients said they had recently eaten mushrooms. Tests conducted on enoki mushrooms sold in California found that they were contaminated with listeria. Enoki mushrooms are long and white with small caps and are commonly used in cuisine from Asian countries. Listeria can contaminate fresh-grown produce through soil, water, and animal feces. Once listeria infects a food processing facility, it can spread to other products in the facility.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, listeria is the third-leading cause of food-poisoning deaths in the U.S. People who are elderly, people with weakened immune systems and pregnant women are the ones who are most at risk from listeriosis. Among the recent outbreak, six pregnant women became ill and two lost their fetuses. People who are sick with listeriosis may experience fever, muscle aches, headaches, stiff neck, and a loss of balance.

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Jimmy John’s Receives FDA Warning About Contaminated ProduceThe U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent a warning letter to the sandwich restaurant chain Jimmy John’s, claiming that the franchise has repeatedly purchased adulterated produce. The FDA identified sprouts and cucumbers as the adulterated products and cited five outbreaks of E. coli or salmonella linked to the restaurants since 2012. Though Jimmy John’s removed sprouts from its stores as a precautionary measure, the FDA said the franchise needs to take corrective action to prevent such outbreaks from continuing to occur. E. coli and salmonella infections can be potentially fatal to young children, older adults and people with weakened immune systems.

What Is Adulterated Produce?

Adulterating food normally refers to adding or replacing ingredients in a food product that may cause harm to those who consume it. For instance, a food manufacturer may replace a natural ingredient in its product with an artificial one, which causes people to become sick upon eating it. In the Jimmy John’s case, the E. coli and salmonella are not artificial ingredients but poisonous substances that have contaminated the produce. Though the producer did not intentionally add the contaminants, it still meets the legal definition of adulterated because there is enough of the contaminant to cause harm.

History of Outbreaks

The FDA accused Jimmy John’s of lacking the control mechanisms to prevent it from continuing to purchase contaminated produce. As previously referenced, the FDA cited five recent food poisoning cases:

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Differentiating Between Food Poisoning and a Stomach VirusIf you are experiencing sudden stomach pain, nausea and/or diarrhea, there are generally two possible causes: food poisoning or stomach flu. Both of their symptoms are similar enough that it is difficult for you to tell the difference. However, the difference between food poisoning and stomach flu can determine whether someone may be liable for your medical expenses and suffering. Illinois has strict liability for food poisoning cases while catching a stomach virus usually falls out of the realm of liability. This is one reason why you should see a doctor, who can diagnose the cause of your sickness.

Catching the Stomach Flu vs. Contracting Food Poisoning

The “stomach flu” is not actually a strain of influenza but a gastrointestinal virus that inflames your digestive system. The virus is passed person-to-person by coming in contact with an infected person or surfaces they have contaminated. You can catch a stomach virus if an infected person is preparing your food, but it is more common to catch it from the people you interact with.

By contrast, you contract food poisoning strictly from ingesting food that contains bacteria or parasites. Because you know that unsafe food was the cause of your illness, it is easier to figure out which food was the likely source of the bacteria. Human negligence in storing or preparing food is often to blame for the contamination.

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