The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) assembled the Model Food Code to specify uniform regulations for food safety in every state. Each state’s health department creates the requirements for food safety and sanitation practices in restaurants.
However, the FDA has developed the Model Food Code to help navigate health departments regarding what conditions restaurants should observe. This specifies a nationwide standard that makes following policies easier for those required to follow.
For example, a restaurant owner could open restaurants in multiple states and still observe the same criteria in all the restaurants.
The Model Food Code is not federal law but simply a set of suggestions for states to observe. This means it is within the discretion of each state’s health department to incorporate these suggestions. Some state health departments have established their regulations on the Code, while others have taken very little from it if anything at all.
What Does the Model Food Code Incorporate?
The Model Food Code deals with all aspects of running a restaurant and recommends including safety and sanitation in all steps.
Some issues covered in the Code are:
- Protection against contamination of food at different stages of acquiring and preparing the food, including proper temperatures to store and cook the food
- How to dispose of contaminated food
- How to make restorations in restaurants in a safe and sanitary manner
- How to sanitize standard restaurant equipment such as eating utensils
- Labeling, identifying, storage, and use of poisonous or toxic materials such as cleaners and detergents
- A manual of how to perform restaurant safety inspections
Types of Liability & Injury Lawsuits for Food Poisoning
Food poisoning cases are pretty standard, and some even make headlines. Possible viruses and bacteria that can cause food poisoning include E. Coli, Hepatitis, Botulism, Norovirus, Listeria, and Shigella. When a cafe, grocery store, or other food distributor is to blame for food poisoning, customers may be entitled to sue the business under common legal theories like negligence or strict product liability.
Potential Causes of Action for Food-Related Illness
When it comes to food poisoning, the business selling the food may be responsible for failure to exercise reasonable care in storing and preparing food or be found strictly liable for a defective food product. Additionally, in some instances, it may have breached a warranty.
Under general negligence doctrines, a business must exercise reasonable care. In the restaurant context, “reasonable care” means that the restaurant must preserve a safe environment, deliver safe products (i.e., meals) and eliminate unreasonable dangers. A negligence claim takes shape once the restaurant breaches its duty to consumers. For instance, a restaurant breaches its duty by keeping a messy kitchen and stowing food in unsanitary ways.
In a negligence case against a store or restaurant for food poisoning, a plaintiff (the individual who is suing) must demonstrate that the business caused the food poisoning. In other words, it must be demonstrated that the business’s dangerous food caused the plaintiff’s illness. Establishing causation is usually hard in these cases.
As an extra hurdle for a plaintiff in a food poisoning case, they must demonstrate that the business’s food was not other food that caused the illness. The plaintiff may have eaten breakfast at home, then eaten at a diner for lunch, and became sick. The origin must be isolated and specified. A physician must be consulted immediately to resolve the sickness and determine the contaminated food.
Ultimately, a plaintiff must prove harm or injury. Merely becoming ill will fulfill this requirement. However, your degree of illness may determine whether it is advantageous to file an action against the store or restaurant in court.
Strict Products Liability
Most states have some form of strict product liability. In tainted food cases, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the food served by the restaurant or bought at the store was defective and unreasonably dangerous. It must also be established that the bad and unreasonably dangerous food caused the sickness.
There is no requirement to show a lack of reasonable care (this is the primary way strict product liability differs from negligence). A business can be responsible under strict product liability for selling contaminated food. Everyone in the distribution chain could possibly be sued, including the food distributor, retailer, wholesaler, and manufacturer.
Breach of Warranty
Under commercial regulations, most states have implied warranties. Typically, an implied warranty is that a product will conform to an ordinary customer’s expectations and follow minimal quality specifications. Where contaminated food compels food poisoning, the injured customer can assert that the food did not conform to the ordinary buyer’s expectation of non-contaminated food. Like strict product liability, an implied warranty will follow the food through the distribution chain unless it is expressly restricted or voided by contract.
Damages from Food Poisoning
When food poisoning induces illness and injuries, legally recoverable damages in a personal injury case can include:
- Medical bills
- Lost income
- Out-of-pocket expenses
- Pain and suffering, and
- Emotional distress.
In irregular and severe cases, death can result from food poisoning. The departed’s loved ones may be able to file a wrongful death action against the responsible business.
When to Take Legal Action for Food Poisoning
Food poisoning cases are standard, and businesses selling contaminated food are often wrongdoers. But that doesn’t mean you should call an attorney because you’re not feeling satisfied after last night’s feast at the new Indian business around the intersection. On the other hand, seeking legal action may be a possible alternative if you’ve been riddled with vast medical bills and related expenses due to a remarkably sharp bout with food poisoning.
Can You Prove That the Restaurant Is To Blame For Your Illness?
You might have a robust suspicion that that particular dinner at that restaurant made you ill. But it can be challenging to establish, particularly if any substantial time has passed between the meal and your sickness.
Even in irregular circumstances where you have proof that might confirm that the restaurant’s food was contaminated, it’s probably not definitive evidence. If you sue the restaurant, they will turn around and claim that something happened to the meals after they left the restaurant—you left it unrefrigerated or permitted it to become tainted somehow.
You have a much more straightforward path to a victorious legal claim over food poisoning if you’re not the only one who was impacted. In some circumstances, a product recall or a health agency warning will apply to certain food products. Recently, high-profile cases involving bagged spinach and ground beef products have emerged. In circumstances like these, where a more plaintiff-friendly fault measure known as “strict liability” may apply, all you might need to establish is that the involved food products were used in the restaurant where you ate and got ill.
What Should I Do If My Restaurant Has Been Accused of Causing Food Poisoning Due to Unsanitary Conditions?
You will probably want to consult an attorney with experience in consumer rights cases, especially if a former customer threatens to sue you. Your consumer attorney will be able to advise you of your rights and possible defenses and can help you navigate your way through the civil litigation process.