Rice contaminated with Bacillus cereus causes food poisoning at steak house

More than two dozen people have fallen ill after eating at a steak house in Texas, according to local health officials. The cause of the food poisoning outbreak has been traced to rice that was contaminated with Bacillus cereus, a type of bacteria that can produce toxins in food.

What is Bacillus cereus and how does it affect food safety?

Bacillus cereus is a common bacterium that can be found in soil, dust, and various foods, especially cereals, spices, and dried foods. It can form spores that are resistant to heat and drying, and can survive in foods that are not properly cooked or stored. Bacillus cereus can produce two types of toxins: one that causes diarrhoea and another that causes vomiting. The symptoms of Bacillus cereus food poisoning usually appear within a few hours of eating contaminated food and last for about 24 hours. In some cases, however, the illness can be more severe and require medical attention.

Rice contaminated with Bacillus cereus causes food poisoning at steak house
Rice contaminated with Bacillus cereus causes food poisoning at steak house

How did the outbreak happen at the steak house?

The outbreak occurred at the Lone Star Steakhouse in San Antonio, Texas, on August 31, 2023. According to the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District (SAMHD), 27 people who ate at the restaurant reported symptoms of food poisoning, such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and diarrhoea. Four of them were hospitalized for dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. The health officials collected samples of food and stool from the restaurant and the patients, and confirmed that the rice served at the steak house was contaminated with Bacillus cereus. The restaurant was closed for inspection and cleaning, and reopened on September 4 after passing the health standards.

How can Bacillus cereus food poisoning be prevented?

The SAMHD issued a statement reminding the public and food establishments about the importance of proper food handling and storage to prevent Bacillus cereus food poisoning. Some of the recommendations are:

  • Cook rice and other foods thoroughly and at high temperatures to kill any bacteria or spores.
  • Refrigerate cooked rice and other foods within two hours of preparation and keep them at 40°F or below.
  • Reheat cooked rice and other foods until they are steaming hot before serving.
  • Discard any cooked rice or other foods that have been left at room temperature for more than four hours or have an unpleasant odor or appearance.
  • Wash hands, utensils, and surfaces before and after handling raw or cooked foods.

What are the legal implications of the outbreak?

The outbreak has also raised questions about the legal liability of the restaurant and its suppliers for the food poisoning cases. According to Texas law, a person who suffers from food poisoning can sue the restaurant or the supplier for negligence if they can prove that:

  • The food was contaminated with a harmful substance that caused the illness.
  • The restaurant or the supplier knew or should have known about the contamination and failed to prevent it or warn the customers.
  • The person suffered damages as a result of the illness, such as medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, etc.

The victims of the outbreak may also seek compensation from their insurance companies or from the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), which administers a program called Foodborne Illness Compensation Program (FICP). The FICP provides financial assistance to eligible individuals who have been diagnosed with certain foodborne illnesses in Texas.

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