Who is Liable for Food Poisoning?

Unfortunately, occasional illness is a necessary part of our human existence. Virtually everyone deals with common issues like colds, the flu, infections, viruses, and other similar infirmities that result in stomach discomfort. While these occurrences can result in very unpleasant symptoms, the human body usually prevails.

Sometimes, however, similar symptoms are related to food poisoning. But just how common is food poisoning? In this article, we will answer that question, provide information on common causes for food poisoning, and discuss when third parties might be liable for it.

What is Food Poisoning?

Food poisoning, sometimes referred to as “foodborne illness,” refers to any illness that results from ingesting contaminated food. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates, 48 million people get sick every year from foodborne illnesses. Foodsafety.gov estimates that 1 out of every 6 Americans will become ill this year from food poisoning.

While many cases of food poisoning are mild and resolve themselves without medical treatment, some cases are extremely serious. The CDC estimates that foodborne illnesses result in 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths each year. Other serious adverse long-term effects can include chronic arthritis, nerve damage, kidney failure, and brain damage.

What Causes Food Poisoning?

According to the CDC, research has discovered in excess of 250 foodborne diseases. Most of these result from infections, which can be caused by viruses, bacteria, and parasites. Familiar examples include salmonella norovirus and E. coli. In relatively fewer cases, poisoning is linked to toxins, molds, and contaminants. Finally, allergens such as eggs and nuts, which are innocuous to many of us, can nonetheless harm some people. 

News stories frequently cite examples of contamination (or possible contamination). For example, Chipotle made headlines when it was linked to E. coli outbreaks 11 states. More recently, outbreaks of the bacteria were similarly linked to romaine lettuce produced in California. A quick internet search can uncover numerous similar food safety recalls, such as a recent recall of certain ground beef and ribeye steaks by Kroger.

Is Food Poisoning Avoidable?

In many instances, food poisoning can be prevented simply by following the appropriate procedures. The complicating factor is that the contamination which leads to the foodborne illness can occur at any point during the production of the food. This includes the farming and harvesting of crops, the processing of food in factories or on farms, the shipping and storing of food, and the preparation of food in factories, restaurant kitchens, or individual homes.

Below are some examples of how contamination can be spread:

  • Meat and poultry can be contaminated with feces during processing.
  • Foods can be kept at warm temperatures too long.
  • Foods that have not been cooked long enough can spread illness.
  • Ready-to-eat shellfish and produce can come in contact with contaminated water.
  • Various forms of contamination are spread by infected handlers, knives, cutting surfaces, hand contact, coughing, and sneezing.

Is Anyone Liable for Food Poisoning?

When a victim of food poisoning suffers personal injury, wrongdoers can be held liable for their wrongful actions. For example, restaurants owe a duty of reasonable care to their customers. If their negligence results in foodborne illness, an injured party can seek recovery for medical bills and other damages.

Similarly, people and companies involved in the chain of food production and processing can be held liable for wrongful behavior.

In some cases, companies that cause food poisoning can also be sued under a products liability theory.

Call with Questions

If you’ve suffered from food poisoning due to the wrongful actions of another, please feel free to call us with your questions. Food poisoning cases can be particularly difficult because causation is sometimes hard to prove. The experienced Oregon personal injury attorneys at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield can help you evaluate your case and explain how to proceed. We believe that holding wrongdoers accountable for their actions is an essential part of creating a safer society for everyone.


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