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76 million Americans become ill from a foodborne illness at least once during their lifetimes. Out of this amount, 325,000 are hospitalized, while 5,000 cases per year are fatal. Older adults and young children are particularly vulnerable.
Falling within product liability law, food poisoning cases are often attributed to negligence in the sanitation, manufacturing, and serving processes or contamination. 250 bacterial illnesses have been identified, excluding chemical-related cases. The source could be anything from pesticides to medications in food to ingredients that have become toxic. Carelessness, too, plays a major factor: Employees not washing hands, improperly packaged or stored food, or dirty equipment can all spread microbes.
The condition often creeps up quickly and unexpectedly, with symptoms like abdominal pain, vomiting diarrhea, and a fever. This isn’t always the case, and the contaminating microbes could take days, if not longer, to produce an effect.
Salmonella: This bacteria affects 40,000 individuals per year. Cases tend to be mild; diarrhea and fever become apparent 12 to 72 hours after infection. However, salmonella becomes far more serious when it spreads to the blood stream.
E. Coli: Some strains result in diarrhea, urinary tract infections, respiratory illnesses, cramps, and vomiting.
Listeriosis: Attributed to bacteria Listeria Monocytogenes, this condition is characterized by a fever, muscle aches, diarrhea, and gastrointestinal symptoms. When serious, it spreads outside of the gastrointestinal tract.
Botulism: From clostridium botulinum, this illness emerges anywhere from six hours to 10 days after infection. Symptoms vary from the normal variety: double or blurred vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, dry mouth, and muscle aches. The condition becomes fatal if the breathing muscles are paralyzed.
Other common microbes include hepatitis, norovirus, and shigella.
Finding the Source
It’s a common misconception that the last item you ate resulted in food poisoning. Instead, as you can see from above, knowing the infecting bacteria, parasite, virus, or other microbe helps identify the source.
How does this work? If you suspect food poisoning and you make an appointment with your doctor, the medical professional is required to report such diseases to the health department. In the process, he or she conducts a pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) test to determine the bacteria. The health department then investigates the source via the typical incubation period and then contacts the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Saving food you suspect contributed to the illness can provide further evidence.
The investigation may eventually involve a visit to the manufacturing plant, where the health department will take samples and go through documents. You and others with similar cases may be interviewed.
In easier instances, if you consumed a food the government recently recalled due to food poisoning, the process of gathering evidence is far shorter and more straightforward.
Filing a Claim
Food poisoning cases fall into the following types of product liability claims:
- Strict Product Liability: Often, the plant wasn’t following strict manufacturing guidelines.
- Negligence: The defendant – the restaurant, grocery store, distributor, manufacturer, or even an employee – acted in a negligent manner at some point.
- Breach of Warranty: Because food must meet minimum safety standards, the manufacturer breaches its duty to the consumer when violating these implied warranties and guarantees.