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If a Restaurant Critic Gets Food Poisoning, Can They Mention It In The Review?

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Last year, a man in Orange County, California got sick, and he blamed it on something funky he ate. This happens to almost everyone sooner or later, and we spend the subsequent hours over the toilet, cursing the miscreant griddle or cutting board that we believe to be at fault. While most of us are mere mortals, the aforementioned man was a food critic, and he used his platform to demand that Orange County issue health inspection letter-grades to restaurants because of his unfortunate stomach bug.

The critic, Brad A. Johnson of the Orange County Register, wrote, "I was planning to review a restaurant in Newport Beach this week. Instead, I got food poisoning there. Everyone at my table got sick. Unspeakably sick. For days. It was awful." After some investigating, Johnson found that the restaurant had a record of health inspection violations. An editor's note mentions that the paper was "not identifying the restaurants involved in this report." Their explanation was that because "nearly half of Orange County restaurants would not receive an A under the letter-grade system, the problem addressed here is widespread. Rather than single out specific eateries for violations, the goal of this column is to show a systemwide problem."

But would it be fair—or even ethical—for a professional restaurant critic to so much as allude to a post-meal illness in a review?

"No, food critics are not allowed to mention that they got food poisoning at a restaurant," says Eater restaurant critic Robert Sietsema. "For one thing, they are not medical experts, and I think even an internist would be hesitant to attribute food poisoning to a particular establishment." Plenty of things can make you sick, and pinpointing a specific eatery or dish is incredibly difficult—and proving so after the publication of a review, which usually occurs weeks or months after the critics' last visit to the restaurant, is even harder.

And since being incognito is the name of the game for restaurant critics, throwing samples from every course into baggies for future lab testing could be slightly counterproductive.

Even amateur food critics (read: anyone with the Internet) are capable of becoming snagged in this ethical quagmire. "The reputation of many otherwise decent restaurants has been ruined by careless (and probably libelous) use of social media to proclaim, 'I got food poisoning there, so stay away,'" says Sietsema.

So puke your heart out, drink some ginger ale, and eat a few saltines—but use caution and sense if you choose to broadcast the identity of the eatery that was allegedly at fault to the world. If you are mistaken, that won't sit well with anyone.

(Note: If your illness is serious, go see a medical professional—their review is the only one that matters.)

A paragraph regarding incubation periods for foodborne illnesses has been removed. Many take days, but others are more immediate. For more information, visit the CDC's website here.

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Big Questions
What Does the Sergeant at Arms Do?
House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving and Donald Trump arrive for a meeting with the House Republican conference.
House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving and Donald Trump arrive for a meeting with the House Republican conference.
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In 1981, shortly after Howard Liebengood was elected the 27th Sergeant at Arms of the United States Senate, he realized he had no idea how to address incoming president-elect Ronald Reagan on a visit. “The thought struck me that I didn't know what to call the President-elect,'' Liebengood told The New York Times in November of that year. ''Do you call him 'President-elect,' 'Governor,' or what?” (He went with “Sir.”)

It would not be the first—or last—time someone wondered what, exactly, a Sergeant at Arms (SAA) should be doing. Both the House and the Senate have their own Sergeant at Arms, and their visibility is highest during the State of the Union address. For Donald Trump’s State of the Union on January 30, the 40th Senate SAA, Frank Larkin, will escort the senators to the House Chamber, while the 36th House of Representatives SAA, Paul Irving, will introduce the president (“Mister [or Madam] Speaker, the President of the United States!”). But the job's responsibilities extend far beyond being an emcee.

The Sergeants at Arms are also their respective houses’ chief law enforcement officers. Obliging law enforcement duties means supervising their respective wings of the Capitol and making sure security is tight. The SAA has the authority to find and retrieve errant senators and representatives, to arrest or detain anyone causing disruptions (even for crimes such as bribing representatives), and to control who accesses chambers.

In a sense, they act as the government’s bouncers.

Sergeant at Arms Frank Larkin escorts China's president Xi Jinping
Senat Sergeant at Arms Frank Larkin (L) escorts China's president Xi Jinping during a visit to Capitol Hill.
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This is not a ceremonial task. In 1988, Senate SAA Henry Giugni led a posse of Capitol police to find, arrest, and corral Republicans missing for a Senate vote. One of them, Republican Senator Bob Packwood of Oregon, had to be carried to the Senate floor to break the filibustering over a vote on senatorial campaign finance reform.

While manhandling wayward politicians sounds fun, it’s more likely the SAAs will be spending their time on administrative tasks. As protocol officer, visits to Congress by the president or other dignitaries have to be coordinated and escorts provided; as executive officer, they provide assistance to their houses of Congress, with the Senate SAA assisting Senate offices with computers, furniture, mail processing, and other logistical support. The two SAAs also alternate serving as chairman of the Capitol Police board.

Perhaps a better question than asking what they do is pondering how they have time to do it all.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
What Makes a Cat's Tail Puff Up When It's Scared?
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Cats wear their emotions on their tails, not their sleeves. They tap their fluffy rear appendages during relaxing naps, thrash them while tense, and hold them stiff and aloft when they’re feeling aggressive, among other behaviors. And in some scary situations (like, say, being surprised by a cucumber), a cat’s tail will actually expand, puffing up to nearly twice its volume as its owner hisses, arches its back, and flattens its ears. What does a super-sized tail signify, and how does it occur naturally without help from hairspray?

Cats with puffed tails are “basically trying to make themselves look as big as possible, and that’s because they detect a threat in the environment," Dr. Mikel Delgado, a certified cat behavior consultant who studied animal behavior and human-pet relationships as a PhD student at the University of California, Berkeley, tells Mental Floss. The “threat” in question can be as major as an approaching dog or as minor as an unexpected noise. Even if a cat isn't technically in any real danger, it's still biologically wired to spring to the offensive at a moment’s notice, as it's "not quite at the top of the food chain,” Delgado says. And a big tail is reflexive feline body language for “I’m big and scary, and you wouldn't want to mess with me,” she adds.

A cat’s tail puffs when muscles in its skin (where the hair base is) contract in response to hormone signals from the stress/fight or flight system, or sympathetic nervous system. Occasionally, the hairs on a cat’s back will also puff up along with the tail. That said, not all cats swell up when a startling situation strikes. “I’ve seen some cats that seem unflappable, and they never get poofed up,” Delgado says. “My cats get puffed up pretty easily.”

In addition to cats, other animals also experience piloerection, as this phenomenon is technically called. For example, “some birds puff up when they're encountering an enemy or a threat,” Delgado says. “I think it is a universal response among animals to try to get themselves out of a [potentially dangerous] situation. Really, the idea is that you don't have to fight because if you fight, you might lose an ear or you might get an injury that could be fatal. For most animals, they’re trying to figure out how to scare another animal off without actually going fisticuffs.” In other words, hiss softly, but carry a big tail.

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