The Lamfers family are suing the owners of fast food chain Wendy's after their daughter was infected from eating its food. David Mdzinarishvili/Reuters

In August 2022, 11-year-old Aspen Lamfers followed her softball session by eating out at a Wendy's restaurant in Jenison, Michigan. Unfortunately, her meal resulted in her contracting E. coli, which significantly impacted her health. She was diagnosed with hemolytic uremic syndrome, which caused seizures and left her unable to move the left side of her body.

She spent over four weeks in the hospital and had to undergo dialysis treatment due to her kidneys being in stage 3 failure. The diagnosis caused permanent brain damage, and she experienced hallucinations and had poorer vision.

To recover, she had to undergo speech, physical, language, and occupational therapy. The family of the young girl has filed a lawsuit seeking $20 million in damages from Wendy's owner, Meritage Hospitality Group, due to the permanent injuries sustained and high medical expenses.

This catastrophic incident highlights the importance of food hygiene and safety when eating out. Hygiene is critical in food preparation, handling, and serving to prevent the spread of illnesses caused by harmful bacteria, viruses, and parasites.

While most restaurants follow strict hygiene standards, there are instances where they fall short and put their customers at risk. The Wendy's restaurant in Jenison was found to severely violate Michigan Food Law through two separate health inspections in the summer of 2022.

The first inspection identified 17 health and food code violations, including dirty chopping boards, undated items, and insufficient sanitizing solution. The restaurant was closed for a period to train staff to follow the correct hygiene procedures.

However, the second inspection still identified 12 further violations, including workers needing to switch gloves after contamination due to raw beef being kept at incorrect temperatures and insufficient hand washing.

These findings demonstrate that the hygiene practices at the Wendy's restaurant were inadequate. Cross-contamination can occur when food is prepared or handled in unsanitary conditions, leading to the spread of harmful pathogens. The young girl's illness was a result of poor hygiene practices at the restaurant, according to her lawyer, Thomas Worsfold.

The Wendy's incident is not an isolated case. Every year, thousands of people suffer from foodborne illnesses, and some cases result in severe illnesses and even death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one in six Americans, or 48 million people, get sick from foodborne diseases each year.

Of these, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die. The CDC notes that the most common foodborne pathogens are Salmonella, Campylobacter, E. coli, Listeria, and Norovirus. These pathogens can cause a range of illnesses, from mild gastroenteritis to severe diseases such as hemolytic uremic syndrome, which Aspen Lamfers contracted.

To prevent foodborne illnesses, it's essential to follow proper hygiene practices. When eating out, customers should look for restaurants that follow strict hygiene standards and ensure that their food is prepared, handled, and served safely. Customers should also check the restaurant's hygiene rating before dining in.