The US is home to hundreds of thousands of restaurants. Diners place their trust in restaurant food safety practices every day. Unfortunately, those restaurants do not always put their diners’ best interests first. Sloppy cleaning practices, improper food storage, and low-quality food sourcing can all contribute to a nasty case of food poisoning. In some cases, the harm is severe enough to warrant legal action against the restaurant. This is what you should know.
What Is Food Poisoning?
Food poisoning is more than a passing stomach bug or a sensitive stomach. Symptoms typically arise within hours of consuming tainted food and may include cramping, fever, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. Depending on the pathogen or parasite involved, symptoms may not develop until days after the meal.
According to the CDC, around 48 million people suffer from food poisoning incidents and 3,000 die from them every year. Some of the most common causes of food poisoning include listeria, E. coli, salmonella, and botulism. While most causes of food poisoning lead to stomach issues, nausea, and vomiting, some can also cause respiratory difficulties, weakness, and double vision.
These food poisoning illnesses pose the most threat to young children, elderly individuals, and those with compromised immune systems. In most cases, food poisoning cases resolve quickly with adequate treatment and rest. Some, however, lead to hospitalization, secondary complications, and/or death.
Food Poisoning and Restaurants
In restaurants, food safety is a major concern. Restaurants are responsible for maintaining industry safety standards when sourcing, storing, and handling foods. Bacteria, viruses, and parasites can contaminate almost all types of foods, including meats, produce, fruits, and juices. When poor storage and handling practices contribute to severe and numerous cases of illness, the restaurant may face liability for the consequences to those they serve.
One of the most notable food poisoning outbreaks in recent years involved the popular fast-service Mexican food chain, Chipotle. The restaurants suffered from several food poisoning incidents in a row in 2015. Nearly 500 people suffered that year from illnesses arising from E. coli, salmonella, and the norovirus. In the summer of 2017, the chain experienced an additional outbreak in Washington DC.
Proving Restaurant Liability in Food Poisoning Cases
Food poisoning legal claims are complex. Many cases of food poisoning are random and isolated events that a restaurant could not have anticipated or easily prevented. Others, however, represent a failure to maintain a reasonable standard of care in the restaurant or in the ingredient supply chain.
To prove restaurant liability, sick individuals must demonstrate that they did receive a food poisoning diagnosis, that the restaurant proximally caused the illness, and that the illness caused serious harm. Connecting restaurant food with illness is often the biggest hurdle in food poisoning negligence claims. Experienced law firms that understand food poisoning claims often partner with medical teams and epidemiologists who can isolate the pathogens involved and create a strong connection between a particular illness and a restaurant experience.
In addition to connecting the illness to the restaurant, sick individuals need to prove serious harm. A few days home from work or an outpatient hospital visit may not warrant a legal claim. Those who succeed in holding restaurants accountable often file class action suits with other affected patrons or independent lawsuits to prove serious, permanent, and/or debilitating harm.
What to Do if You Experience Restaurant-Related Food Poisoning
If you suffer a serious illness from contaminated restaurant food, preserve the evidence if you can. Write down your experience, including when and where you ate. Keep receipts from the restaurant visit and all medical treatments. Talk to a food poisoning injury attorney to learn more about your legal options and the next steps in the case. When food poisoning crosses the line from discomfort to serious illness and injury, you have the right to act. Pursuing a claim can help you obtain fair compensation and keep other diners from falling ill in the future.