Food Contamination Can Lead to Serious Health Problems

Food contamination can lead to foodborne illnesses, typically called food poisoning. Foodborne illness is a serious occurrence, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting that an estimated 48 million people get sick each year, that over 120,000 are hospitalized, and that about 3,000 die as a result of food contamination annually in the United States. The CDC also reports that researchers have reported more than 250 types of foodborne bacteria.

Since food-borne illnesses are so serious and have the potential to be deadly, understanding the causes of food contamination, how food contamination can be prevented, and who’s liable for contamination is important. Here’s a look into what you should know:


Common Food-borne Germs and How They’re Spread

There are a few food-borne germs and illnesses that are more common than others. The top five most common foodborne germs are:

  • Norovirus;
  • Campylobacter;
  • Clostridium perfringens;
  • Salmonella; and
  • Staphylococcus aureus.

As their name implies, food-borne germs are found in the food that we eat, and can be present in food that we prepare ourselves at home, enjoy in a restaurant, or buy from a grocery store or other source.

Sometimes, food-borne bacteria contaminates food as it is being grown or harvested, such as when contaminated water is used to water lettuce, or dirty containers are used to collect or store food. For example, in 2011 there was a terrible listeria outbreak from cantaloupes reported–which killed three people–which was linked to poor packing and storing practices of a Colorado farm, and the melons’ potential exposure to dirty water. Rumor has it that a truck that was used to haul manure was possibly used to transport cantaloupe, too.


The 2018 E. Coli outbreak from Romaine Lettuce

Caesar Salad
Bowl of Caesar Salad

The first outbreak of E. coli from romaine lettuce in the US in 2018. An outbreak that lasted four months (March through June) sickened 210 people and killed five; 96 people were hospitalized. The CDC was able to trace the outbreak back to a romaine producer in Yuma, Arizona. It’s likely that the lettuce was contaminated by an infected water source. Clearly, food contamination damage can be devastating, and from something as common/simple as lettuce can be the cause. Thankfully, as widespread as romaine lettuce is used in salads, people could still eat some lettuce-based salads, as romaine lettuce is not used. Caesar salad, Napoli Shkolnik attorneys suggested, is a good alternative.

Sometimes, the problem isn’t how food is grown or harvested, but rather how food is stored or handled. When food is not kept at the proper temperature, bacteria can grow. Bacteria can also be transmitted from dirty hands, countertops, or kitchen equipment onto food.

The CDC lists four simple steps at home that can be used to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses: wash your hands and surfaces often; separate foods to prevent cross-contamination; cook to the right temperature; and refrigerate properly.

Unfortunately, you don’t always have control over where your food comes from or how it’s prepared.


Who’s Responsible for a Food Contamination Incident?

The symptoms of food poisoning can be downright uncomfortable to live with, and include abdominal cramps, diarrhea, nausea, muscle cramps, vomiting, fever, flu-like symptoms, and more. As stated above, food poisoning can even be life-threatening or fatal in the most serious of cases.

In some cases, there may be no one to blame but yourself. Perhaps you left milk unrefrigerated for too long, or ate leftovers that had been sitting out in a warm temperature for an extended amount of time.

In many cases though, the food contamination problem started before the food ever reached your control. E. coli outbreaks on spinach, for example, affect food in the grocery store and select restaurants, and there may be no way that you can know of the problem or avoid it.

If you suffer a serious bout of food contamination as a result of something you ate, determining liability is important. The first step is tracking the source of the food contamination, which can be difficult to do, especially if there were not a number of other people affected by the contamination. Once the source of contamination is identified, determining whether or not safe food growing, harvesting, storage, preparation, and handling practices were used is critical. If food was handled in a negligent manner, and this was the cause of the foodborne illness, you may be able to file a claim against the negligent party. The negligent party may be a farm, storage facility, processing plant, grocery store, restaurant, etc.


Call Our Experienced Legal Team Today

At the law offices of Napoli Shkolnik PLLC, our experienced foodborne illness attorneys can help you to understand liability for a food poisoning incident, track the source of the contamination, and hold the responsible party liable for harm you’ve suffered. To schedule a free consultation with our law offices, please call us directly or send us a confidential message at your convenience.