DEAR DR. BLONZ: Usually, when I eat leafy green salads in restaurants, I have no adverse physical reaction. But a few times, I have eaten this type of salad in restaurants and it caused me severe diarrhea, which strikes within a half-hour after leaving the restaurant. I am usually homebound by this for the next 24 hours, feeling weak and lethargic. This does not happen when I eat other foods, or homemade green salad. Can you tell me what chemical the restaurant or food processing companies may be adding? And how can I protect myself from this happening again? -- H.K.
DEAR H.K.: In addition to the lousy way it makes us feel, it is always a disappointment when eating -- an activity meant to provide nourishment and satisfaction -- makes us ill. And it can be troublesome to attempt to figure out what might have been responsible. The list of possibilities might include a developing illness, a reaction to one or more medications, a food allergy or sensitivity, or an eating establishment’s sanitation issue.
Food poisoning is on the “suspect” list in the case you describe, especially given that you have not experienced this type of reaction when eating other foods or making salads at home. There is the possibility that something contaminated was included in the meal; this can include the food, salad dressing, condiments, beverage, dishes, silverware or any unclean item or surface you were exposed to while visiting the establishment. (I have assumed your hands were washed.)
It is difficult to identify the responsible element(s) until some theme emerges. Thoughts that added “chemicals” are responsible would not be at the top of my list, unless such events occur regularly. As for greens: Last year, there were several incidences of E. coli infections linked to romaine lettuce.
Is a particular restaurant more involved than others with these episodes? You may be able to get more information by speaking with friends who frequent that same establishment. Or, you could check social media to see if others have had similar experiences -- but I advise caution, as critical posts can be baseless comments made by competitors.
Bottom line: With the details provided, it is difficult to point your fork at the salad greens and say they made you sick. With no obvious answer at this time, a shift to “detective mode” will increase the odds for success. That said, I hope that this does not happen again! Write back if you learn more. For more on food safety, see b.link/food22.
Send questions to: “On Nutrition,” Ed Blonz, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.