"You think, 'Oh, foodborne illness is just a bellyache,' but it is quite costly." The loved ones of Lovey Jean Carter learned that the hard way. After the Texas woman was buried in Austin in November 2019, some 84 people moved on to a reception at Rising Star Baptist Church. There, they shared homemade brisket and store-bought rotisserie chicken, along with purchased sides. By that night, many of them were in agonizing pain. As Maryam Jameel reports for ProPublica, roughly 75% of the reception attendees ended up reporting food poisoning symptoms; at least 26 people were sick enough to be hospitalized. The culprit: salmonella, specifically a type called Saintpaul. Jameel writes that an estimated 1.35 million Americans are infected each year, a rate of illness that hasn't changed over the last 25 years.
"For many of those victims, the effects can be life-altering," she writes, and that holds for the funeral attendees. One man spent a week in the hospital, owes $49,000 for the stay (he didn't have insurance), and wasn't able to work during his 4-month recovery. Kidney issues related to his illness cause him to use the bathroom more often. Another attendee who spent 8 hours in the ER and did have insurance still ended up with a $1,700 bill and has persistent abdominal pain. "I really didn’t want to pay anything, especially when you’re not at fault," he says. Jameel details Austin Public Health's ultimately futile quest to identify the source of the salmonella. Some signs point to the rotisserie chicken, but a testing protocol goof contaminated the single unopened chicken that remained, meaning they couldn't definitively identify the source—and the attendees had no one to sue. (Read the full story.)