Food poisoning occurs when a person becomes ill from eating food that was contaminated with bacteria, a virus, or parasites. Because these contaminants cannot be seen with the naked eye, it is often impossible to tell just by looking if food is contaminated.

Food can become contaminated at any point. You’ve likely heard of food being recalled from grocery stores and restaurants. Most commonly, the food involved will be produce or raw meat. Salmonella and E.Coli are bacterias that frequently cause recalls after being detected in food.   

Someone with food poisoning will often experience diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. These symptoms are usually mild enough that medical treatment is not required, and many people don’t even realize they have food poisoning, but instead mistakenly attribute their symptoms to the flu or a similar illness. However, severe cases of food poisoning can require close medical attention and hospitalization and- while very rare- food poisoning that is especially severe or that goes untreated can even result in death. 

Food poisoning can occur in a restaurant setting if foods are not kept at the proper temperatures required to prevent the growth of bacteria, if food becomes spoiled once it is past it’s expiration date, or if employees do not practice proper hand-washing and food handling guidelines. For this reason, customers who develop food poisoning from food served at a restaurant may want to take legal action against the restaurant for their carelessness. 

How Do You Prove That the Restaurant Gave Me Food Poisoning?

Before you consider pursuing legal action against a restaurant that you believe gave you food poisoning, you must make sure that you will be able to prove that the food poisoning did, in fact, come from food served to you by a restaurant. 

To prove this, you will need to satisfy the elements of negligence. The basic elements of negligence when it comes to a restaurant food poisoning case are:

  1. The restaurant had a duty to serve you safe food;
  2. The restaurant breached that duty by serving you food that became unsafe because of actions or inaction taken by the restaurant;
  3. The tainted food caused your illness; and
  4. You have measurable damages as a result of your illness. 

Satisfying all four of these elements is likely to be very difficult and it can be almost impossible to present enough information to prove your case.

However, proving that you suffered food poisoning from a restaurant is much easier when multiple customers became sick from eating the food. You will be extremely more likely to prove that the restaurant was the source of your illness if several people become ill and the common denominator between them is the fact that they all ate food from a certain restaurant, 

If you visit your doctor after developing symptoms of food poisoning, they may want to use a stool specimen to identify exactly what kind of bacteria you were exposed to. That information is considered evidence that will make proving your case easier, as well. 

If you are successful in proving all of the elements above, then the restaurant will be deemed liable for their negligence in preparing and serving your food. You will need to provide proof of any medical expenses incurred because of the food poisoning, such as doctor bills and receipts for prescription and/or over-the-counter medicines purchased to treat your illness.

Who Regulates Food Safety?

Food safety in the United States is regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC),

The USDA is generally responsible for ensuring that meat from livestock and eggs are safe, so part of their job is to oversee the handling, storage, and processing of raw meat and eggs at packaging plants.

The FDA helps ensure that food products are free of contaminants and are properly labeled

The CDC tracks known cases of food poisoning and works to make sure food that is known or suspected to be contaminated is removed from grocery stores and restaurants. 

What Causes Food Poisoning?

As mentioned before, there are several different ways that food poisoning can occur in a restaurant setting, but all of them can be classified as improper food handling:

  • Improper Storage: Many foods can easily become unsafe if stored or held at an improper temperature. Raw meat must be kept cold enough (and cooked food must be kept hot enough) to prevent contamination from bacteria or parasites, Accordingly, food must be cooked or stored fast enough and at appropriate temperatures to prevent bacterial growth. 
  • Cross-Contamination: Food in a restaurant can also become contaminated by coming into contact with surfaces, equipment, or other food that is contaminated. 
  • Improper Hygiene: Food can easily become contaminated with a virus if a food handler is sick  and still comes to work, or if they are sick and don’t know it yet. Because food handlers don’t always immediately know they are carrying a virus, thorough and frequent hand-washing is a must. 

Who Is Liable for the Food Poisoning from the Restaurant?

If you do decide to sue a restaurant for food poisoning and are successful in proving your case, then the restaurant will be liable for the damages you suffer. The damages will likely include medical expenses and lost wages while you were ill. 

It is often difficult to precisely identify the individual employee(s) responsible for the improper food-handling, but if the employee is identified, they could very well lose their job. 

As a preventative measure, the agencies regulating food handling and preparation impose very stiff penalties to restaurants that are found to be in violation of safe food handling guidelines. The fines given to offending restaurants are ideally enough to deter future violations that may put customers at risk. 

Do I Need a Lawyer for my Food Poisoning Issue?

If you think you may have a legal claim against a restaurant after suffering from food poisoning, a lawyer experienced in restaurant food poisoning cases will be invaluable. The lawyer can help to preserve evidence of the restaurant’s negligence and can ensure that you account for absolutely all damages suffered as a result. 

Unless a restaurant is willing to settle, a food poisoning case will have to go to trial. At that point, it is almost essential to have a lawyer to represent you and to navigate through the suit. In addition, a lawyer with relevant experience will be able to give you a good idea of if your case is likely to succeed. They will also help you to decide whether the damages you are likely to recover will outweigh the time and expense of the lawsuit. 

For these reasons, it is advisable to at least consult with a lawyer if you are considering pursuing a restaurant food poisoning lawsuit.