Food poisoning is a common health issue in the U.S. It is caused by certain strains of bacteria or viruses that multiply in food which is eaten. By products produced by the micro-organisms cause sickness, which can range from mild discomfort lasting for a few hours, right through to serious illness and even death.
The source of food poisoning is very diverse. It can be caused by food that is contaminated where it is grown, by lack of refrigeration or freezing, contamination with dirty water, contamination during storage, transport or during cooking.
Not all food poisoning can be blamed on someone else. If you leave a piece of uncooked chicken in the fridge for too long, it may very well be dangerous to eat. If you had cooked within a day or two after buying it from the supermarket, it might have been absolutely safe. It’s unlikely you would be able to blame the supermarket for any illness you suffered from if you did not keep the chicken in a suitable environment.
On the other hand, if you have bought Maradol papayas recently and they originated from a certain Mexican farm, it is possible that you could have suffered food poisoning originating from the farm or farms that the papayas were grown at. The fact that 210 people in 24 states, including one person in Michigan, have developed salmonella poisoning from eating papayas from this one farm (possibly others) means that it would not have been your fault. Whether any of these people could actually sue anyone for the consequences of their illness is something that will be discussed further below.
Food poisoning from eating or handling contaminated fruit and vegetable is relatively rare. Much more common is food poisoning from eating meat or fish products that have been left for too long in conditions that have allowed bacteria like Salmonella, or viruses like Norovirus, to thrive. Supermarkets, grocery stores, cafes and restaurants are all potential sources of contaminated food that can lead to food poisoning.
Symptoms of food poisoning
The severity of food poisoning symptoms depends partly on the strain of micro-organism that has been eaten, the amount of it and the individual person’s ability to cope with it. One death has already occurred (in New York) from the recent Mexican papaya food poisoning outbreak. Typical symptoms of food poisoning are nausea, stomach pains and cramps, fever, vomiting and diarrhea. Some food poisoning symptoms only appear after a few days, although the majority appear after 24 hours or so.
The longer it takes for symptoms to appear, the harder it is to identify where the source of contamination comes from. Sometimes it is easy to make an association between food poisoning and a particular likely source. For example, if you eat at home most of the time, then go to a restaurant one evening, then get sick, there is a reasonable chance that you at something that was contaminated. The problem with the papaya food poisoning outbreak at first was that few people would have imagined that a papaya bought at a nearby supermarket could make them sick. Papayas are supposed to be good for you!
Who is to blame for food poisoning?
Food poisoning can have serious financial consequences. You may need medical treatment and may need to take time off work while you recover from the symptoms of the illness. Assuming that you are not to blame for the illness you have experienced, who else could be to blame? And could you sue them? You may be able to sue someone or a business if the food poisoning can be definitely linked to them. The typical food poisoning scenario is a mass outbreak from a single restaurant kitchen. If numerous people complain of sickness and the sicknesses are serious enough, then an investigation is likely to find the cause. It could be the way the kitchen was managed or even traced back to a particular food source that was used by the kitchen.
In the papaya case that is still ongoing, at least one farm in Mexico seems to have been identified as being the source of the Salmonella contamination, but as yet there is no idea as to how the papayas became contaminated. On some farms that use irrigation, it is contaminated irrigation water that is often the original source, but this hasn’t yet been identified yet in Mexico.
For a personal injury claim to be successful after a food poisoning case, it must be proven that the plaintiff was poisoned by food coming from an identified source and that the person, business or organization responsible for providing that contaminated food had failed to ensure that the food was safe. A food poisoning claim is a type of product liability claim. The ‘product’ is faulty and can cause harm. The fact that food poisoning is so varied means that there is no hard and fast way of ensuring that a personal injury lawsuit will actually be successful. The best advice is to discuss your sickness with a personal injury attorney such as Abood Law in East Lansing or Birmingham, Michigan. You can contact the office at 517.332.5900 (East Lansing office) or 248.549.0000 (Birmingham office).