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Food Poisoning: What Are Your Rights?

By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. | Last updated on

This year's Listeria cantaloupe outbreak has left consumers wondering about the safety of the nation's food products. In fact, there are legal remedies in place to help victims of food poisoning. Plaintiffs can file products liability lawsuits against food producers.

Not all food poisoning cases will be the same. However, most are similar to lawsuits filed against dangerous or defective products.

Food poisoning generally occurs when someone consumes food that is contaminated with pathogens. Illnesses can occur as the result of viruses, parasites, toxins or chemicals.

There are more than 250 different types of food-related illnesses. Approximately 76 million cases of disease and 5,000 deaths occur in the U.S. each year.

Several different parties can be held liable for the defective food. The manufacturer of the food, the wholesaler, and the store are all potentially liable. Essentially, all of the entities that are within the product's "chain of distribution" can be sued.

The product must be shown to be defective in some sense. In most food poisoning cases, the consumer will have to show that the food is the source of the illness. The defect must also have made the product unreasonably dangerous.

For example, if you leave a slice of raw chicken breast on the kitchen counter, unrefrigerated, for a week and you become sick after eating it, the manufacturer probably won't be found liable. But if the chicken was properly eaten and stored but was contaminated with salmonella bacteria in the factory, the manufacturer may be liable.

If you're thinking about filing suit against a manufacturer, you should check your jurisdiction's statutes first. Laws governing products liability lawsuits and food poisoning may vary by state. It might be prudent to consult with a local products liability attorney if you have questions.

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