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How do I make a formal complaint without being an ass?
November 29, 2008 9:05 PM   Subscribe

Food poisoning: How do I deal with the merchant?

I ordered some thai/viet food for delivery tonight, from a restaurant I've never been to (I just moved to this city).

As soon as I opened my fresh rice wraps (w/ peanut sauce) I was struck by the 'off' small. I ate a wrap anyway, with the sauce, and quickly lost my previously roaring appetite. It didn't taste bad, but my stomach just stopped wanting more.

I picked at the other food items I got, and within an hour of eating, I ran to the bathroom for a small... explosion. It was nothing horrendous, or painful, but it was quite obvious that I had expelled my dinner, given the.. erm... 'contents'.

Now, I gave that peanut sauce another whiff, and damn, I really think it was the culprit.

Is this the sort of thing I should approach the restaurant about? I'm not really sure what I want done, but I was pretty upset with wasting 30$ in food ordered in for only myself. Naturally, as confident as I am that the peanut sauce is to blame, I am not too keen on 'testing' the other foods, given that I'm not sure. I ended up ordering a pizza to fill the void (yay, another 20$!).

If I do talk to the manager/whatever what do I say? How do I avoid coming off as one of those customers that is always looking to get something for free? I too work in food service, so naturally I would like to approach this tactfully and politely, while still expressing my dissatisfaction properly.

MeFi, help!
posted by sunshinesky to Human Relations (25 answers total)
 
Honestly, given your first experience with their food, are you ever going to order it again? I would take the remains of your meal and go to the restaurant and ask for a refund. Tell them that it made you sick and after examination, seemed to be "off." Don't accept a free meal coupon - unless you like Russian roulette.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 9:16 PM on November 29, 2008


You can call the restaurant and tell them what you've told us here, that the food smelled "off," that it gave you some digestive problems (or you could be more explicit about your "explosion") and that you think it was the peanut sauce in particular.

They might offer you a refund or a credit toward another meal, or they might get defensive and not believe you at all.

Other than that, there's really nothing more to pursue, as the direct cause of food poisoning if often difficult to pinpoint with certainty, unless an overwhelming number of people experience the same thing under the same circumstances.

Hope you feel better soon.
posted by amyms at 9:21 PM on November 29, 2008


I ran to the bathroom for a small... explosion.

Generally food poisoning takes 24 hours or more to cause sickness. You don't eat a tainted item and then throw up an hour later.

Of course, I am not a doctor but am relying on what my doctor told me (confirmed by a second doctor) when I suffered a horrible bout of food poisoning myself. The doctors' conclusion was ultimately borne out by what I later found out --- that two dining companions with whom I had shared a meal 36 hours prior to my sickness also became sick at roughly the same time. (I had mistakenly blamed a meal I ate just a few hours before getting sick.)
posted by jayder at 9:26 PM on November 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


it is my understanding that bacterial causes usually show up later, than those that are toxin related.

I am absolutely positive it was this food given the 'off' smell, disruption of my apetite and obvious remnants of this particular meal *only*.
posted by sunshinesky at 9:39 PM on November 29, 2008


City/County Health Department.
posted by Gerard Sorme at 9:46 PM on November 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


Years ago, we ordered delivery food and had a similar noxious experience, occurring almost immediately after eating the food. The restaurant was unhelpful and uncooperative, saying our symptoms could have originated from anything except their wonderful food. We called our City Public Health Department which dispatched an inspector to the restaurant two days later. He found that the food preparers were wiping counters with ammonia, then making sandwiches without changing gloves or washing hands. The tested food had ammonia in it.

So you can get sick right after eating tainted food, depending upon what evil nasties lurk in the comestibles.
posted by terranova at 9:56 PM on November 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


OK, granted, the food made you sick.

The Wikipedia article on Foodborne Illness says, "If symptoms occur within 1–6 hours after eating the food, it suggests that it is caused by a bacterial toxin or a chemical rather than live bacteria."

The point is: There was something toxic in the food that made you sick, but it likely wasn't bacteria. What other possibilities are there, MeFites?
posted by exphysicist345 at 10:26 PM on November 29, 2008


Generally food poisoning takes 24 hours or more to cause sickness. You don't eat a tainted item and then throw up an hour later.

Depends on what you kind of food poisoning you get. Symptoms of poisoning brought on by Staph toxins will occur within 1-4 hours of eating and typically last not longer than a day. Infections would take a little longer to come on. Actually the most common form of food poisoning in the U.S. is Norovirus, for which symptoms most commonly appear between 24 and 48 hours after exposure. If the food was chemically contaminated, that could be another story.

But yeah, call the restaurant. They'll probably not be much help, but at least frame your complaint as if you're giving them some sort of heads up that their procedures are off. Then call the County Health Department.
posted by LionIndex at 10:40 PM on November 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


You've obviously never eaten at Chipotle.

Look, it's a business. It is a profit seeking entity. The only way you can "get back at them" with any lasting effect, in any meaningful way, is to not patronize them.

You can also describe your experience on Yelp or elsewhere to magnify your boycott.

Otherwise, you're still alive and life is too short to devote anymore time to this thinking about this.
posted by wfrgms at 10:45 PM on November 29, 2008


exphysicist345- I am aware of that, yes, and I never implied that it was bacterial. All I know is there was food, and it 'poisoned' me. Whether it was in the food, or on the food doesn't matter. I'd really rather not dwell on the semantics.
posted by sunshinesky at 10:50 PM on November 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


You can also describe your experience on Yelp or elsewhere to magnify your boycott.

I second this. Those Yelp reviews do influence people (my friends and I tend to check the Yelp reviews before patronizing a new restaurant).
posted by artemisia at 11:00 PM on November 29, 2008


I think the health department needs a call. They are there for exactly this reason, have a staff trained in looking into these things and are ready, willing and able to help.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:26 PM on November 29, 2008


I got poisoned in about the same fashion by a chicken pot pie from Boston Chicken Market. My way of dealing with it? Don't eat at Boston Chicken Market. This is my recommended method for dealing with your situation as well.

Why I ever thought it was a good idea to eat a chicken pot pie from Boston Whatever is anybody's guess.
posted by Justinian at 12:06 AM on November 30, 2008


As soon as I opened my fresh rice wraps (w/ peanut sauce) I was struck by the 'off' small. I ate a wrap anyway, with the sauce, and quickly lost my previously roaring appetite.

This is the point at which you should have posted a Should I Eat It Or Not question here on Ask Mefi....

Posting a review and or contacting the proper office to deal with this may prevent others from suffering as you did - even though you might not get compensation for doing so.
posted by gomichild at 12:49 AM on November 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Could have been anything, really, as has been mentioned before. If it was really bad (as in, you spent the entire night vomiting or otherwise), I'm nthing that you contact the health department. If you just had an extremely upset tummy and a really, er, explosive experience, just post your experience online on as many review sites as possible.

It could be that their oil (or peanut sauce) was rancid, or improperly stored. All sorts of fun things multiply in dirty kitchen grease. Either way, the health department will sort them out.

Drink lots of water or Gatorade, btw - you need to rehydrate!
posted by Grrlscout at 1:42 AM on November 30, 2008


I'm guessing that you are normally not a confrontational person, so you don't know how to approach this. Maybe you've had bad experiences with conflict in the past and can't imagine it ever having a positive outcome. Really, it's not such a big deal. Most often, the best way is to be polite, fair, firm and direct. You're in food service so just think about how you would like to be spoken to if you were in their position. Just say something like:

"Hello, I don't mean to trouble you but I'm quite sure your food made me ill. The peanut sauce didn't smell right and I reacted violently to it right afterwards. I'm sure you wouldn't like this to happen to another customer. Would you be willing to give me a coupon for another meal?"

The key is to be nice to them. Assume it was just an unlucky mistake that they'd want to correct. Assume that they care, that they'd like to hear about things that went wrong. Assume that they're not gonna get offended (why would they, when you're being fair and sweet and adorable?). Assume they'd want to please you, because small businesses (especially restaurants) live and die by their reputation.

If they prove your assumptions wrong, then you can throw a hissyfit and call whomever you care to call.
posted by randomstriker at 2:27 AM on November 30, 2008


Keep the food. Call the health department. They will test the food and take the appropriate action against the offending restaurant.
Complaining to the restaurant and getting a refund wont stop other people getting sick from the same food.
posted by missmagenta at 6:12 AM on November 30, 2008


In my personal experience (NYC), Thai restaurants are *the worst* culprits for food poisoning, and I don't know why that is.

They will deny any fault if you accuse them. But if you make a stink they'll give you your money back. It helps, I find, to threaten to post your tale to the reviews on MenuPages (or wherever).

I was once food poisoned at a Provencal restaurant in NYC where the price ran about $120 per person. I must have been sickened by restaurant food at least two dozen times in NYC over the last decade, both take out and sit down. It happens to friends a lot too. It really is an appalling problem. So please don't just let it go. Report it to the health department, even if they do give you satisfaction. (Or satays-faction, as the case may be.)

People who tell you you can't be sure it was the food have not been victims of food poisoning. You can almost always tell.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:29 AM on November 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


I have a friend who used to work as an accountant at a restaurant in Vancouver B.C. She told me that they would have to pay out to customers who claimed they had food poisining in the sum of $1,000 or more. The customers would call the health department (I'm assuming). There would be an inspection, and the customer would have a big payday. I don't know if this is regular practice, but it's something to consider.
posted by cleo at 7:44 AM on November 30, 2008


I very specifically wouldn't take the food back, because if you give it back to them, it, and all the other peanut sauce they were using, will have magically disappeared when you call the health department and complain to them.

The restaurant might give you 20 bucks to shut up and go away. And the next person who eats their peanut sauce might be immunodeficient and get very, very ill, beyond the bit of diarrhea that you had. Call the right people, and get this place inspected to make sure it's safe and not a recurring problem.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:55 AM on November 30, 2008


"I picked at the other food items I got, and within an hour of eating, I ran to the bathroom for a small... explosion. It was nothing horrendous, or painful, but it was quite obvious that I had expelled my dinner, given the.. erm... 'contents'."

Was this vomiting or diarrhoea? If that latter than it wasn't your last meal even though that composed the contents. Most infectious agents (and it's infectious agents which cause diarrhoea) take at least a couple days to produce results.

jayder writes "Generally food poisoning takes 24 hours or more to cause sickness. You don't eat a tainted item and then throw up an hour later."

This is true for an infectious food born illness like salmonella, not for a toxic agent like staph.

fourcheesemac writes "People who tell you you can't be sure it was the food have not been victims of food poisoning. You can almost always tell."

Actually you can't. The vast majority of food borne illnesses have long incubations, up to two weeks. People routinely attribute incidences of FBI diarrhoea to the latest place they ate and they are almost always wrong as the source could be anything in the 48 hours to two weeks previous. Even common fast acting toxin FBIs like staph can take up to six hours to manifest. Tracking this stuff is tricky which is why it often takes dozens of cases before health authorities can pin the source down. Made more difficult because people have a hard time remembering where and what they ate a week ago. Take something common like salmonella. You can't see, taste, smell or feel the difference between a properly cooked and stored order of grilled chicken and one which has sat out on a counter for 36 hours before being nuked and served. However the former is safe and the latter is dangerously likely to make customers sick. Even so you might not get sick until a week after that tasty chicken wrap.
posted by Mitheral at 9:11 AM on November 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Since there seems to be a lot of debate on how long food-poisoning takes to affect a person, I'm just going to go with me gut and contact the health department.

Thanks for all the replies though- I don't think I can mark best answer because the science of it doesn't appear to be exact and the anecdotes all equally useful.
posted by sunshinesky at 9:32 AM on November 30, 2008


(yes, good morning, that was "my gut", and "the anecdotes are all equally useful")
posted by sunshinesky at 9:34 AM on November 30, 2008


>It could be that their oil (or peanut sauce) was rancid, or improperly stored.

Spoiled food, vs. bacterial infection, may well produce a quicker result.

N'thing the health department recommendations.
posted by yclipse at 4:54 PM on November 30, 2008


It's my experience that food poisoning can take effect in @ an hour. Visit them. Explain what happened. Ask for a refund. If you believe that they are unlikely to improve their food-handling practices, call the Health Dept. Food poisoning can be very serious for old people or people with compromised immune systems.
posted by theora55 at 3:26 PM on December 1, 2008


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