Types of Food Poisoning: Listeria / Listeriosis
Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed June 20, 2016
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What is Listeriosis?
Listeriosis is a serious infection caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. Listeriosis is primarily affects pregnant women, newborns, and adults with weakened immune systems.
Listeriosis symptoms often look like other kinds of illnesses. It usually starts with stomach cramps and diarrhea, followed by fever, muscle aches, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions. Pregnant women may show mild flu-like symptoms, but it can lead to miscarriages, still births, or a severe infection in the newborn.
How do you get listeriosis?
You get listeriosis by eating food contaminated with Listeria. Listeria lives in the soil, which can cling to fruits and vegetables. Animals can eat the vegetables and carry Listeria without appearing ill, which means that products from those animals also contain listeria. Babies can be born with listeriosis if their mothers eat contaminated food during pregnancy. Although healthy persons may consume contaminated foods without becoming ill, those at increased risk for infection can get listeriosis after eating food contaminated with even a few bacteria.
Cooking and pasteurizing food kills listeria. However, ready to eat foods such as deli meats and hot dogs may contain listeria if they were packaged improperly.
Listeria and the Law
Since listeriosis can be severe, many people who become ill try to sue the companies who sell contaminated food. There are several different legal theories upon which these lawsuits proceed:
● Strict Liability: A plaintiff proceeding under a strict liability theory only needs to prove that she was sick due to consuming infected food. It is not necessary to show that the producer did anything wrong.
● Violation of Express or Implied Warranty: Food contaminated with listeria is clearly unsafe to eat, which violates the producer’s implicit promise that the food suitable for consumption.
● Negligence: Negligence requires you to prove that the food manufacturer did not exercise due care when producing the food that gave you listeriosis. This can include failing to clean cutting equipment or failing to separate precooked and raw meats. However if the manufacturer followed industry standard practices, even if they seem unsanitary, they may not be liable under a theory of negligence.
Many people have sued food producers in the past for listeriosis infections. The lawsuits are complicated and can vary depending on where the victim was located and where the company was located. Be sure to consult with an attorney that specializes in food poisoning cases. She will be able to explain your options to you, including any rights you may have under previous settlements.
Reducing the Risk of Listeriosis
Even though listeriosis victims may sue food producers for their injuries, it’s best not to get sick in the first place. Here are some simple steps to help prevent listeria infection:
● Thoroughly cook raw food from animal sources. Remember to use an instant read thermometer and keep the recommended minimum safe cooking temperatures in mind. As always, separate cooked and uncooked meats.
● Thoroughly wash raw fruits and vegetables to remove any trace of soil before eating. This includes fruits that you have to cut with the skin on, such as cantaloupe, because your knife can transfer listeria from the skin to the flesh.
● Drink only pasteurized milk and consume dairy products made only from pasteurized milk.
● Reheat precooked meats, such as hot dogs, until they are steaming.
● Wash hands, knives, cutting board, and other kitchen surfaces after handling raw meat.
For more information, see FindLaw’s sections on Product Liability and Litigation.
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Contact a qualified product liability attorney to make sure your rights are protected.