A Look at Foodborne Illness and the Law
When we dine out, we expect to have a pleasant experience. Rarely do we even consider illness to be because of something we ate. Instead, we put trust in restaurants to handle food safely and responsibly. The bad news is that there are many outbreaks and individual cases of food poisoning linked to fast food restaurants, food vendors, diners and other food-related businesses annually.
Victims of foodborne illnesses caused by Salmonella, Listeria, E.coli or any other contaminant may suffer countless ailments from discomfort to organ failure. In severe cases, not only will victims spend months in a hospital bed, there is a possibility they never fully recover from their infection. A person who suffered a foodborne illness injury may bring a claim against another party who caused the harm to pursue compensation for losses caused by the illness.
Seeking the legal guidance of an experienced Foodborne Illness Attorney will be your best chance at recovering fair compensation.
Learn more about foodborne illness and the law.
Filing a Foodborne Illness Claim
If you were harmed due to a foodborne illness, you might be able to sue a variety of liable parties. Depending on each unique situation, you may file a claim against the restaurant where you consumed the food, the suppliers providing the food, growers and the owners of the restaurant chain.
Proving your claim is the most significant challenge in food poisoning cases. You will have to show three things to win:
- The food was contaminated with a foodborne pathogen
- The contaminated food consumed by the victim caused the food poisoning illness
- You suffered physical, mental and financial harms from the restaurant’s mishandling of food
Obstacles in Food Poisoning Cases
Tracing the food that caused the illness can be difficult. Symptoms may take hours, even days to appear. More than likely, victims consume other foods during this time. It will be challenging to trace a food poisoning back to a particular food unless there has been an outbreak that affected multiple people.
Disappearing evidence. The longer you wait to take legal action, the harder it may be to gather evidence. Keep in mind; employees may disinfect contaminated surfaces or discard contaminated food—leaving less evidence to analyze.
Take away containers are not good evidence. Although you might have taken your leftovers home, the restaurant may allege contamination occurred in your doggy bag after it left the restaurant.
More than one party may be liable. It is not rare for blame shifting to occur in claims where there may be more than one responsible party. The food supplier may blame the food prepper and vice versa.
Powerful defendants. Large chain restaurants are typically equipped with attorneys and vast financial resources. They will not give up without fighting legal claims aggressively.
Proving something was wrong with the food you ate can be tricky. The food poisoning victim will need to isolate a specific pathogen in the food. This is usually executed by using pulsed-field gel electrophoreses (PFGE) testing.
Food Poisoning Class Action Suits
A widespread outbreak of a foodborne illness is a public health crisis. If you are not the only one affected, it will be easier to prove fault if a group of people became ill due to large batches of tainted food. In class action suits, several victims may seek compensation for their losses.
Many times, a product recall applies to certain food products. If this is your situation, your attorney would need to prove that the restaurant used the recalled food products. There are usually fewer obstacles in the path of a class action suit since there is plenty of back up.
How does food poisoning from a restaurant occur?
Pinpointing where contamination occurred in the food production chain is tricky. The initial food contamination may have taken place in a variety of settings. Bacteria is the primary contaminant that has the potential of causing food poisoning. This contaminant is transferable through improper food handling and handwashing by food preppers. Other ways contamination may occur include:
- Food contamination may have occurred before it reached the restaurant.
- Improper washing and storage of foods.
- Lack of hand washing on behalf of employees.
- Employees are not following food safety guidelines.
- Ill employees may pass on highly contagious diseases such as hepatitis while preparing or serving food.
- Staff does not follow or ignores hygiene guidelines when cleaning food preparation surfaces.
- Employees might not receive proper training.
- Cooks may not heat food to an adequate temperature.
- Employees may store food in an area with a rat or other pest infestation.
How filing a foodborne illness claim can help others
When someone else’s negligence or carelessness causes you harm, filing a civil claim may be the only way to hold them accountable. Sure, there are food-handling regulations, and the establishment may get hit with fines, but lawsuits have the potential of changing the food safety policy in ways that no one else can.
Let’s take the Jack in the Box E.coli outbreak for example. Jack in the box completely rebuilt their corporate operations around food safety and set new standards across the fast food industry. However, this only occurred after the Jack in the Box food poisoning incident hit the headlines in the 1990s. The popular chain restaurant sold E.coli contaminated burgers, infecting 732 people. Out of the individuals who became ill, 171 of them required hospitalization and four children died. Jack in the Box agreed to pay more than 50 million dollars in settlements to the victims.
As a direct result of the Jack in the Box E.coli outbreak:
- The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) increased the recommended internal temperature for cooked hamburgers from 140 degrees F to 155 degrees F.
- The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) introduced testing for E. coli in ground meat.
- The USDA’s FSIS brought in safe food-handling labels for packaged raw meat and poultry sold in supermarkets.
How The Carlson Law Firm can help
We believe that safety should always come before profits. If you have been injured due to a foodborne contaminant, don’t go another moment without legal representation. Here at The Carlson Law Firm, we have been protecting the rights of personal injury victims for over 40 years. Our goal is to ensure you are getting the treatment required for recovery while seeking maximum compensation on your behalf. Let us evaluate your case and discuss your legal options. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation. We care, we can help.
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- Written by Adriana Torres