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Food Contamination

Food-borne illness is fairly common in the United States. The main cause of food-borne illness is the improper handling of food, which allows it to become contaminated by bacteria, parasites, fungi or viruses. This can happen when the food is being manufactured or packaged. It can also occur at a restaurant where the food is being prepared and served. Under products liability law, a consumer who is injured as a result of eating contaminated food can take legal action to recover money damages for any injuries.

Recalls and Warnings

Recent headlines in the news tell us that an Idaho company recalled beef chili for undeclared allergens, an Illinois firm recalled deli meat and cheese trays because of possible Listeria contamination, and a Massachusetts company recalled meatballs which might contain pieces of hard plastic. A Minnesota company voluntarily recalled granola bars and cereals because they might be contaminated with Salmonella, a potentially fatal bacteria. A recall is a voluntary action by a manufacturer or distributor removing a particular product from the public because it might cause health problems. In New York, sulfite-allergic consumers and persons with asthma were warned to avoid eating a certain brand of vegetables due to the presence of undeclared sulfites in the product which could trigger an allergic reaction.

Government Agencies

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees food safety. Companies are required to sell food that is safe and properly labeled. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service lists recalls on contaminated, adulterated or misbranded food products. If you have complaints about meat, poultry and egg products, you can contact the USDA. For complaints about food products that do not contain meat, poultry, or eggs, you can contact the FDA. If you became ill after eating at a restaurant, contact your local health department.

Food Contamination Lawsuits

Food-borne illness does not show up immediately, making it difficult for a consumer to identify the food that caused the illness. It is sometimes difficult to show that a contaminated food came from a particular company. Many processed foods contain several ingredients from different sources. Also, physical evidence of contamination is usually not available because the food has been eaten or thrown away before a consumer becomes ill. Liability for food-borne illness varies with the type of food product and the pathogen involved in causing the illness. Most consumers who suffer food-borne illnesses experience relatively mild symptoms and do not incur significant medical expenses or miss much work. More serious food-borne illnesses can result in higher medical costs and lost productivity.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.

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