Blue Bell Ice Cream has recently issued multiple recalls for products manufactured by it that are linked to a listeria outbreak. This is the latest in a list of recalls that reminds us all that food poisoning happens daily.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 76 million people in the United States become ill from pathogens in food every year. Researchers estimate that the yearly cost of all food borne diseases in this country is $5 to $6 billion in medical expenses and lost productivity. The two most common food borne illnesses are a result of the bacteria Salmonella and Campylobacter. It is estimated that those two alone account for $1 billion in direct and indirect medical costs.
Food poisoning is often undiagnosed. The CDC estimates that 38 cases of salmonellosis actually occur for every case that is diagnosed and reported to public health authorities. This may be because symptoms from food poisoning often mimic a stomach virus and can include bloody diarrhea, chills, fever, muscle weakness blurred vision, dilated pupils, and headache. Symptoms in infants can also include a weak cry, lethargy, and weak sucking.
It is estimated that 5,000 people die from food poisoning in the United States every year. One reason is because of the severe dehydration that occurs as a result of many types of food poisoning. Dehydration results in the loss of fluids and electrolytes from excessive diarrhea and vomiting.
Other complications of food poisoning vary depending on the type of food poisoning. Escherichia coli food poisoning in children and adults can result in hemolytic uremic syndrome. Listeriosis, the food poisoning resulting from the Blue Bell ice cream, can cause meningitis. In pregnant women, listeriosis can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature labor, and serious illness or death in newborn babies.
Although food poisoning can occur in any age group or population, the people most at risk for serious complications include older adults, pregnant women, infants, children, and people who have compromised immune systems. This group includes people with diseases that affect the normal functioning of the immune system, such as HIV/AIDS, diabetes, cancer, and kidney disease. Chemotherapy patients are also at a higher risk. Unfortunately, some of the recalled Blue Bell products were distributed to hospitals and other health care institutions. The Blue Bell products are linked to at least three deaths and eight illnesses.
If you think you have food poisoning, seek medical attention immediately. Your doctor may be able to diagnose food poisoning from a list of what you’ve recently eaten and results from the proper laboratory tests. A sample of the suspected food, if available, can also be tested for bacteria and their toxins as well as for viruses and parasites
To help prevent food poisoning, use these safety tips when cooking at home:
- Wash your hands carefully before preparing food.
- Thoroughly cook beef and beef products, especially hamburger.
- Thoroughly cook poultry and eggs.
- Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly, especially those that will not be cooked.
- Don’t drink unpasteurized milk and juices and untreated surface water.
- Wash your hands, utensils, and kitchen surfaces with hot soapy water after they touch raw meat or poultry.
- Wash your hands carefully after changing infant diapers or cleaning up animal feces.
Unfortunately, these tips do not help you when you’ve purchased a product, such as the Blue Bell Ice Cream, that has been prepared by someone else. The Blue Bell Ice Cream that is being recalled was distributed to retail outlets, including food service accounts, convenience stores and supermarkets across the country.
Blue Bell was not forthcoming about the scope of the recall initially and has had to issue multiple recalls for separate products found to be contaminated. Its failure to fully investigate its facilities and issue a full recall initially may have led to additional illnesses or deaths. For a list of all Blue Bell products that have been recalled, visit http://www.fda.gov/Food/RecallsOutbreaksEmergencies/Outbreaks/ucm438104.htm#Products.
If you have some of the recalled ice cream, discard it immediately. If you have consumed some of the Blue Bell products and were sickened or injured as a result, you have legal remedies. You should contact an attorney to determine your options.