What is a Foodborne Illness?

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 What Is Product Liability?

Product liability is the set of legal statutes that hold a manufacturer, wholesaler, or seller of a product accountable for defective products that are in the stream of commerce. Under product liability laws, any single party that is responsible for any part of the manufacture or sale of a defective product may be held liable for any injuries that result from that defective product’s use or consumption by a consumer.

For example, when manufacturing a food product that contains multiple ingredients, numerous different parties may be involved in the manufacture, distribution, and sale of the food product. One manufacturer may create one specific ingredient, while another may create another combination of ingredients that go into the final product.

After all of the individually manufactured ingredients are brought together and assembled, another company may then make the final consumable product. After the final product is complete, one party will then be in charge of distributing the product to wholesalers, who will then in turn will sell the final product to stores, who will then sell the product to a consumer.

If a completed food product is defective upon consumption by a consumer, then any of the following parties involved may be held liable for any resulting injuries:

  • The manufacturer that prepared or combined all of the ingredients for the product;
  • The wholesaler that received the completed product and then sold the product to the distributor;
  • The storefront that sold the defective product to the consumer; and/or
  • The manufacturer of the specific ingredient of the completed product that was found to be defective or resulted in a consumer receiving a foodborne illness.

Once again, product liability law is its own distinct category of law. This means that product liability law is different from typical personal injury civil lawsuits. This is because product liability laws are designed to protect and compensate consumers for their injuries, while also serving as a deterrent to manufacturers by punishing those responsible for defective goods that end up in the stream of commerce.

What Is a Foodborne Illness?

Foodborne illness, otherwise known as foodborne disease, is any type of illness that results from the consumption of a contaminated, expired, or otherwise defective food. Foodborne illness can also arise from exposure to food that is mishandled. Most commonly, food borne illness results from the improper preparation, handling, or storage of food, including the cutlery used to consume the food.

It is important to note that every state has very strict laws when it comes to the hygiene practices that must be adhered to when preparing and serving food to the general public. As such it is important to consult your local jurisdiction’s laws concerning food safety, handling, and preparation.

What Are Some Causes of a Foodborne Illness?

Once again, the most common cause of foodborne illness is the introduction of food contaminants, such as chemicals or toxins. Such food contaminants are typically introduced in the preparation phase of the food product. However, foodborne illnesses may also be caused by naturally occurring substances, such as naturally occurring poisons found in the food product itself. For example, most people know that a misstep in the preparation of blowfish could result in a consumer being poisoned.

Bacteria is another one of the main contaminants that can cause a food illness. Bacteria are contaminants that are transferred due to improper handling or preparation of the food product. Most commonly, the bacteria is a result of the food preparer lacking proper hygiene. Some common types of food bacteria include salmonella and E. Coli.

Typically. when a foodborne illness breaks out due to food contamination, the authorities are contacted in order to prevent a mass outbreak. From there, all parties involved in the food product are put on notice to take action to prevent further outbreak, such as recalling defective food products.

Are Foodborne Illnesses Different From Food Allergies?

In short, yes. A food allergy is not something that may affect the entire population, but rather only persons with that specific food allergy. Individuals with a food allergy might experience symptoms of illness, even with a food product that has not been contaminated. For example, a person with a tree nut allergy will experience food illness even with uncontaminated products that contain tree nuts.

On the contrary, foodborne illnesses are likely to affect all sectors of the population due to the contaminated food product. As such, foodborne illnesses may result in more widespread effects on the population at a whole. Legal remedies for contaminated products typically include a damages award to reimburse consumers for the cost of the food, their medical costs, and other expenses related to their foodborne illness.

What Types of Injuries Are Associated With Foodborne Illnesses?

As noted above, foodborne illnesses can result in the manifestation of various different symptoms. It is important to note that many foodborne illness symptoms are associated with a particular bacteria. For example, the salmonella bacteria is often accompanied by abdominal cramping.

Other examples of other common symptoms and injuries resulting from food poisoning include:

  • Digestive disorders such as:
    • Nausea;
    • Upset Stomach and cramping;
    • Diarrhea; and
    • Loss of fluids.
  • Fever-like symptoms including:
    • Chills
    • Headaches
    • Joint and body pains;
    • Muscle aches; and
    • Fatigue
  • More permanent injuries such as:
    • Kidney or organ failure;
    • Blood disorders as the contaminant travels from the intestine into the bloodstream; and
    • Reiter’s syndrome, which includes pains in an individual’s joints, irritation of their eyes, and painful urination.

How Do I Recover From Losses Associated With Foodborne Illness?

It is important to note that one of the most difficult parts of filing a foodborne illness lawsuit is identifying the exact party who is liable for your injuries. Although foodborne illnesses are most commonly a result of a failure to practice safe food handling, many parties may be involved in getting the food product to the end consumer.

As such, the party that suffered harm from the food (i.e. the plaintiff) may need to consider where they bought the food, where the food was consumed, as well as their individual background of food allergies. Plaintiffs may also wish to initiate a civil lawsuit against a fictitious defendant in order to preserve their claim for injuries, and then later modify their petition once they discover the actual party responsible for their injuries.

There are typically two basic ways to recover from harms suffered as a result of a foodborne illness. If the foodborne illness resulted from consuming food at a restaurant or other establishment, a plaintiff may be able to sue based on the legal theory of negligence. Among other issues, a plaintiff would need to prove that the restaurant owner or chain breached their duty of care and that the breach of that duty is what ultimately caused the plaintiff’s injuries.

For example, a chef may have undercooked the meat that was consumed by the plaintiff. Another example is a chef failing to maintain proper food safety and washing their hands properly prior to handling the food. Alternatively, the meat may have been improperly stored, contaminated by other food products, or contained contaminants that were introduced from the factory of origin.

If the food was distributed through the commercial market, such as grocery stores, the plaintiff harmed may be able to file a products liability lawsuit. Many cases of foodborne illness involve defective products that were released into the stream of commerce in mass quantities. Food poisoning recalls are often a common focus of defective products class action lawsuits. For example, an ice cream product may be recalled from grocers based on a concern of listeria that was present on the manufacturing equipment.

Although the exact legal elements for a defective product suit differ by state, in order for a consumer that was harmed by a defective product to be successful in their civil lawsuit against the party that harmed them, they must typically demonstrate the following:

  • That the product sold to them was in the stream of commerce;
  • That the seller or manufacturer was under an obligation to sell or manufacture the food product in such a way to meet the ordinary expectation of average consumers;
  • That at the time of the consumption of the product, it was defective;
  • That the defect in the product is what caused the product to be unreasonably dangerous to the consumer;
  • That the defect was foreseeable (i.e. predictable) by the seller, and that an average consumer could have been injured by the defect; and
  • That the injury caused an average consumer to sustain quantifiable damages.

Do I Need an Attorney for Help With a Foodborne Illness Case?

As can be seen, recovering from a foodborne illness may be a complicated matter. As such, if you have suffered injuries due to a foodborne illness, you should immediately consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer.

An experienced attorney will be able to assist you in gathering the necessary information to hold the correct party liable for your injuries. Additionally, an attorney will be able to initiate a civil lawsuit on your behalf, and represent you in court, as necessary.


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