Is this food poisoning?

My wife and I went out for dinner at a local restaurant last night. I ate a calzone; she had roast beef and fries. Later, as we were getting ready to go to bed, she suddenly felt ill, ran to the bathroom and got sick. It didn’t last too long – maybe 10 minbutes or so. After that she complained a bit of stomach cramps, but nothing too serious, and there was no repeat performance. She immediately assumed that it was food poisoning and was due to the roast beef she ate (which was medium rare, but not bloody). I am not sure for two reasons:

  1. the elapsed time between her finishing dinner and getting sick was no more than 90 minutes.
  2. I ate about one-third of the roast beef myself, and felt no ill effects.

Do you think this is food poisoning? I would hate to cross off a perfectly good restaurant from our list if my wife’s illness was due to something else. I should add that she has been fairly stressed due to work lately and we were actually discussing her work during dinner.

I am also rather intrigued about whether all people are equally susceptible to food poisoning. I mean, if a dozen people all eat the same contaminated food, would all 12 get ill?

Sounds to me more like digestive distress due to overeating and/or stress. Did she eat a lot?

It’s possible. If it is food poisoning then there are a number of organisms that produce toxins that can cuase rapid onset vomiting and abdominal pain.

The two that come immediately to mind are:

Bacillus cereus causes vomiting and cramping in that sort of time period, it’s usually associated with rice that been cooked and left to stand, but has been found in other foods including beef and turkey.
Staphylococcus aureus also causes vomiting and abdominal pain, again in the right sort of time period. More than 50% of healthy people carry some strain of Staphylococci around on the skin or hair, or in their mouths and nasal passages.

It might be wise for your wife to see your GP, if it is food poisoning it should be reported to the relevant public health authority who can investigate it further to prevent more serious outcomes to vulnerable people (the very young, the elderly, the immunocompromised etc).

All people are susceptible, but not all people are equally susceptible. Several things come into play, overall health, the dosage of organism, toxin or poison taken, and things like gut flora and stomach pH.

Food poisoning occurs in two broad categories: toxic and infectious; infectious food poisoning occurs if you ingest a quantity of live pathogen sufficient to overwhelm your body’s defences; the onset of symptoms is usually at least a few hours after eating, more often the next day. Infectious food poisoning often takes a few days or more to recover from.

With toxic food poisoning, however (caused by sufficient quantities of poisonous substances in the food - often residual toxins produced by pathogenic bacteria that may themselves have been killed by cooking), the onset of symptoms can be very swift - in the case of bacillus cereus (a bacterium that thrives on cooked rice), it can be so quick as to cause violent sickness/vomiting before you have time to swallow the second spoonful.
Recovery from toxic food poisoning can be quite rapid, especially if most of the affected foodstuff has been expelled by vomiting.

So it could be toxic food poisoning, or it could be something else like an allergy or even something entirely unconnected to the food, such as dehydration or sunstroke.

According to a lecturer I had, lots of cases of B. cereus go unreported in UK. People vomit after eating at an Indian or Chinese restaurant but blame the incident on the alcohol they had drunk beforehand because they think it couldn’t be food poisoning so quickly after eating.

Even if it was food poisoning, it wasn’t necessarily the restaurant. It could, in principle, have been anything you’d eaten in the previous day or two.