Every state has food safety laws, which are intended to protect consumers from injuries such as food poisoning or food borne illness. Food safety laws govern the way that food manufacturers, distributors, and restaurants provide that food to their consumers. An example of this would be how food safety laws dictate that food that is contaminated, spoiled, or expired should never be served to customers.
Additionally, many local counties also regularly inspect restaurants and other food-selling businesses. Such inspections are intended to ensure that these restaurants and food-selling businesses are complying with food safety standards.
Some areas have a letter rating system for restaurants which indicate how well they’re complying with food safety standards. This is meant to provide consumers with a quick and simple way of determining whether it is safe to eat at a certain place.
What are Some Examples of Food Safety Violations? How Can I Prove a Food Safety Violation?
Food safety violations can occur when a restaurant or store fails to meet the state and local standards for the safe handling, preparation, and serving of meals and food products. Food safety regulations may vary depending on the type of restaurant or business involved, as well as the type of food in question.
An example of this would be how extremely perishable foods, such as dairy and eggs, must be handled with additional care compared to how packaged and preserved foods are to be handled.
Some of the most common examples of food safety violations include, but may not be limited to:
- Serving improperly cooked food, such as undercooked or raw food that is meant to be cooked to certain safety
- Serving expired food;
- Improper food recall, or failure to recall affected food products;
- Serving meals that have a foreign object in the food;
- Distributing or serving contaminated food;
- Failing to follow proper handwashing and sanitation procedures;
- Serving the wrong dish to the wrong patron, which can lead to food allergy injuries;
- Serving alcohol to minors or persons with alcohol allergies; and/or
- Failing to meet state or city public health inspection standards.
However, proving a food safety violation could prove to be challenging. This is because the person bringing the lawsuit must prove that they were poisoned or became sick only from the defendant’s establishment or restaurant, and nowhere else. The plaintiff bringing the lawsuit must prove two things in order to win:
- That the food that the plaintiff ate was contaminated and unsafe; and
- The contamination came from the defendant’s food, restaurant, or establishment, and nowhere else.
Additionally, the plaintiff will need to prove that their illness was caused by the contaminated food. The best way to do this is to have a stool sample scientifically tested for food poisoning. Another example of evidence that may be presented is any sort of doctor’s statement. As this could prove to be a costly and time consuming process, many people choose not to take legal action for food safety violations.
Who Can Be Sued in a Food Safety Violation Lawsuit?
Because food safety violations can result in various injuries to a customer, including food poisoning, food allergy, choking, or other injuries, it is important that food safety laws are adhered to. Many businesses lose a great deal of profit, or even their license to operate the business, every year due to food safety violations.
Depending on the source of the food that caused the violation, one or more parties may be liable. They could be held liable for injuries caused by improper food handling, and/or food safety violations. Examples of potentially liable parties may include:
- Food companies including manufacturers and distributors;
- Restaurants, food carts, food trucks, and other food servers;
- Schools, such as those that have a cafeteria or serve snacks to the students;
- Health care institutions and hospitals’
- Nursing care homes; and/or
- Common carriers such as train or airplane servicing food.
Is It Illegal To Sell Expired Food? What Is The Penalty For Selling Expired Food?
It is important to note that there is no federal law that requires a manufacturer to include an expiration date on a food product they sell. However, many manufacturers of food include many different terms on their products such as:
- Best if used by, best before, or best until x date;
- Sell by or freeze by x date; or
- Expired by or use by x date.
Importantly, most of the above terms concern how fresh a product is, not whether or not the product is safe to consume past a certain date. However, the “use by” term may be used by a manufacturer to indicate that the product should not be consumed after the indicated date. Although there is no federal law concerning expiration dates, certain states have laws concerning the sale of expired goods.
Additionally, the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) does require a “use-by” date to be present on infant formula and baby food. The FDA requires such information to be present on infant products to ensure that the infant products contain the quantity of nutrients that are described on the label. It is illegal to sell infant formula or infant food after it expires.
If you feel that you have been harmed by the consumption of expired foods, a food safety attorney will be able to review your case and file a complaint against the responsible party. Additionally, they can also initiate a lawsuit on your behalf.
There are various civil penalties for selling certain food products past the “use-by” or expiration date. For example, in 2018 Walgreens agreed to pay $2,250,000.00 for allegedly selling expired baby food and baby formula.
How Do I Report Food Safety Violations?
There are numerous different ways that you can report food safety violations. For example, if you purchased an expired food product at your local store, whether accidental or not, you can always return it to the store for an exchange or refund. You may also send a written letter or email correspondence to the store or the store’s corporate headquarters concerning the food safety violations.
In addition, your state may also have an administrative agency that is tasked with safety. If you state does, then you may contact them and make a report. Finally, you can also report food safety violations to your state’s attorney general or the Food and Drug Administration.
Once again, a food law attorney can help you file your initial food safety reports, and ensure that all communications are recorded. It is important that all communications are written, so that the communications may be later used as evidence in any civil lawsuit.
What are Some Consequences of Food Safety Violations? What Are the Legal Remedies Available in a Food Quality Lawsuit?
Some penalties and consequences for food safety violations could include:
- Private Civil Lawsuit: An injured patron may sue the food provider for damages. The business may have to pay damages for medical costs, court fees, lost wages, and other losses. Damages are the most common legal remedy available in a food quality lawsuit;
- Loss of License: As previously mentioned, it is not uncommon for a business to lose their operating license after being found liable for food safety violations. This may be especially true if the business is a repeat offender;
- Loss of Employment: An employee who violates food safety laws may lose their job, either from being terminated or from the business shutting down because of repeated violations;
- Fines: A restaurant or other food related business may face fines for violating food safety regulations; and/or
- Injunction: A court may issue an injunction, or court order, requiring the restaurant or food business to change its food safety practices and policies.
Generally speaking, in order to recover damages, a person needs to prove that the food safety violation was the cause of their injury or losses. However, a business may still face legal consequences from authorities, even if no consumers were found to be injured.
Do I Need a Lawyer for a Food Safety Violation?
Working with food safety lawyers can help ensure success in a food safety violation lawsuit. If you have experienced harm because of a food safety violation, you should consult with a skilled and knowledgeable personal injury lawyer.
An experienced personal injury attorney will help you understand your rights, as well as your state’s specific laws regarding the matter. Finally, an attorney can also initiate a lawsuit on your behalf and represent you in court as needed.