Food and drink are perhaps two of life’s greatest pleasures. However, they can put us in a world of pain – or worse – if contaminated or improperly labeled.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports an average of 1 in 6 Americans – or 48 million people – are sickened by foodborne illnesses each year. Of those, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die. These are low estimates, considering not every such illness is reported or even recognized. In fact, it’s believed only 1 in 30 victims of foodborne illness seek medical attention, and many fewer are properly diagnosed.
At Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, our food illness attorneys know determining the source of food-related illnesses is not only critical for liability purposes, it’s an important part of identifying opportunities to improve food safety practices, which is key to prevention.
Still, the process can be daunting. People might eat hundreds of different foods in a given week, so identifying the source can be challenging. Outbreaks are closely monitored and analyzed, and data from federal regulators can become central to subsequent litigation.
Federal regulators have researched the culprits of domestically-acquired food illnesses and deaths between 1998 and 2008 and discovered:
· Produce (leafy greens, vegetables, fruits, etc.) was the No. 1 source of food-related illness (46 percent) and the No. 2 source of food-related deaths (23 percent).
· Meat and poultry were the No. 1 source of food-related death (29 percent) and the No. 2 source of food-related illness (22 percent).
· Dairy and eggs accounted for 20 percent of illnesses and 15 percent of deaths, while fish and shellfish accounted for 6.1 percent of illnesses and 6.4 percent of deaths.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that while molds, contaminants, viruses, parasites and allergens can cause foodborne illness, the most common cause is bacteria. Among the organisms that cause the highest number of hospitalizations and fatalities:
- E. coli
- Clostridium perfringens
Salmonella has been identified as the top pathogen, as far as foodborne illness is concerned. On average, 1 million cases of Salmonella illnesses are reported each year, accounting for more than one-third of the total reported food illnesses. That figure has remained steady for the last 10 years, according to the 2012 Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network.
While a large number of people get sick, most are going to be able to recover within a couple days with little or no lasting effects. For these people, it’s unlikely litigation would be a worthwhile endeavor. But foodborne illness is more than simply a stomachache. It can lead to lifelong chronic and inflammatory diseases. Possible outcomes can include:
- Kidney failure
- Liver failure
- Damage to fetus
- Nerve damage
- Brain damage
Those most at-risk are children, pregnant women, older adults and those who grapple with chronic illness.
It is the responsibility of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to investigate adverse reports related to food and drink consumption. Hundreds of food recalls are issued every year – most voluntary – pertaining to everything from fresh produce to peanut butter.
In addition to pathogenic illnesses, there are also sometimes issues with adulteration of food involving hard or sharp foreign objects. These instances may result in laceration or perforation of tissue in the mouth, tongue, throat, stomach and intestines, as well as damage to teeth and gums.
Such instances are far less common than other types of food injury, with the U.S. Food & Drug Administration reporting approximately 190 cases between 1972 and 1997.
Another serious problem is failure to properly label foods containing certain allergens. For example, many facilities produce foods in plants that also use peanuts, dairy and other potentially fatal allergens. If the possibility of contamination is not disclosed, the manufacturer/distributor could face liability.
Liability for Foodborne Illness
While hundreds of potentially dangerous foods are recalled each year, it’s important to note recalls do not absolve a food grower, processor or distributor from civil liability.
Because there are so many steps involved in getting food from the farm to the plate, there are many potential sources of contamination. Depending on the process, potential defendants may include:
- Farmers and growers
- Sellers/distributors (including restaurants)
Generally, it’s necessary to prove that the defendant either caused contamination or failed to use reasonable care to prevent it, and that the plaintiff suffered injury as a result of consuming that contaminated food.
Our food poisoning attorneys in Fort Myers have secured damages to victims for coverage of medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering.
If you or a loved one has been injured in Southwest Florida, contact Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights. There are no fees or costs unless we win. Offices in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Naples and Port Charlotte.
Call 800-646-1210 for a Free Consultation.