Food Contamination Lawsuit

Food Contamination

Foodborne illnesses and contaminated food sicken millions of people every year. While every case is different, food contamination disproportionally affects children, seniors, and those with pre-existing conditions.

Food contamination is almost always preventable. Consequently, the liability for the losses you and your loved ones incur will almost always fall on the people and businesses responsible for the unsafe food. Under the principles of product liability, you do not even need to prove they knew about the contamination when it left their hands.

A food contamination lawyer from McEldrew Purtell investigates food contamination claims that sickened you or a loved one. The firm assembles the evidence you need to pursue compensation for your losses through an insurance claim or food poisoning lawsuit.

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Salmonella Poisoning

Every year there are approximately 1.35 million cases of salmonella poisoning from pre-packaged or grocery store foods, causing severe illness, hospitalizations, and deaths.

What Is Food Contamination?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 48 million Americans, or roughly one in every six people in the U.S., suffer from a foodborne illness yearly. Of these, 128,000 will require hospitalization and 3,000 will die.

Anytime your food contains something unreasonably dangerous, you may have a claim for food contamination. Food contamination takes many forms, including:


The most common type of food contamination comes from pathogens, including bacteria, viruses, and parasites that get into food and beverage products. These pathogens can contaminate both fresh food and prepared food.

Some common foodborne pathogens include:

  • Listeria monocytogenes
  • Norovirus
  • Campylobacter
  • Clostridium perfringens
  • Toxoplasma gondii
  • Salmonella
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • E. coli / Shiga Toxin
  • Vibrio vulnificus
  • Clostridium botulinum

Norovirus and Salmonella cause most forms of food poisoning. Both produce symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain. Even though these symptoms are sometimes referred to as “stomach flu,” these pathogens are unrelated to the influenza virus.

Food poisoning cases caused by Toxoplasma gondii and Listeria monocytogenes are not as common as those caused by Norovirus and Salmonella. But these microbes produce life-threatening symptoms that can put you into the hospital or even kill you because they affect your brain and nervous system. 

Another pathogen that has caused widespread cases of food poisoning is E. coli. This family of pathogens produces Shiga toxin that affects your kidneys and blood clotting factors. As a result, victims suffer from vomiting and bloody diarrhea that produces such severe dehydration that it kills some patients.

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Catastrophic Injuries from Food Contamination

While the majority of food poisoning symptoms are mild and temporary, thousands of people are catastrophically injured and killed by food poisoning every year including kidney failure, SEPTIC infections including amputation, brain damage and death.

How Food Contamination Happens

Food contamination can happen in the following ways:


Cross-contamination happens when contaminated material comes into contact with food products. For example, E. coli does not occur naturally in plants. Instead, these bacteria grow in the intestines of animals. Recent cases involving spinach, lettuce, and broccoli contaminated with E. coli occurred when animal manure or water contaminated by manure touched these vegetables.

Cross-contamination can also happen when chemicals leach out of food packaging, food processing machines, or other objects that touch your food. Injuries from BPA, like high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease, happen when the chemical leaches from plastic bottles into consumers’ drinks.

Improper Manufacturing

Some manufacturers carelessly or deliberately cut corners, exposing consumers to contaminants. Some risks of improper manufacturing include the introduction of:

  • Allergens
  • Cleaning products
  • Metal shavings

Manufacturing processes can also allow uncooked food to cross-contaminate prepared food.

Improper Preparation

Most pathogens cannot survive cleaning, cooking, dehydration, salting, and other preparation techniques. But consumers can become ill when a manufacturer, restaurant, or other food service business fails to prepare food safely.

Some common preparation issues include:

  • Undercooking
  • Storing at incorrect temperatures
  • Serving out-of-date food
  • Cross-contaminating after cooking
  • Failing to maintain a sanitary environment, including improper pest control

Responsibility for ensuring proper preparation often falls on local health agencies that inspect factories and food service businesses.

Intentional Adulteration

Intentional adulteration is rare. But when it happens, it can affect thousands or millions of people. While this type of contamination can happen anywhere, many recent cases involve overseas manufacturers who add adulterants to reduce costs and increase profits.

Liability for Food Contamination

A food contamination lawyer can pursue a claim against any entity involved in bringing a contaminated food product to market. Product liability law considers the mass production and distribution of products to be a dangerous activity that requires elevated care by those involved.

As a result, the law gives injured consumers the power to bring a food poisoning lawsuit against:

  • Farmers
  • Processors
  • Manufacturers
  • Restaurants
  • Retailers

Consumers can use three possible grounds to pursue injury compensation for contaminated food:

Product Liability

Product liability principles hold every business involved in the production, distribution, and sale of a defective product strictly liable for any losses caused by it. 

“Strict liability” means the injured victim does not need to prove those parties intended the defect. They do not even need to prove the parties were aware of the defect. Instead, they only need to show the product was defective and caused their injury.

Cases involving contaminated food revolve around three types of defects:

Design defects happen when there is no way to produce the food product safely. Examples of design defects include food that was grown using dangerous pesticides or manufactured using dangerous additives.

Manufacturing defects happen when food gets contaminated during the manufacturing process. A manufacturing defect happens when food gets contaminated with metal shavings from a broken machine during production.

Warning defects happen when the food does not include instructions for safe use. A food label that fails to explain the correct cooking temperature or time might have a warning defect.


Negligence happens when someone fails to exercise reasonable care. When a food poisoning lawyer files a negligence claim, they must show that the party knew or should have known that their food manufacturing, processing, or handling was unreasonably dangerous. 

Thus, negligence could happen when a restaurant serves food stored in a broken refrigerator at dangerously warm temperatures.

Breach of Warranty

A breach of warranty happens when someone distributes or sells food that is not fit for consumption. Thus, a store that sells expired food might have breached the warranty that implicitly comes with the food. Lawyers for food poisoning can file a lawsuit against the store for any resulting illnesses.

The Compensation Process for Contaminated Food

Before you can pursue a food poisoning lawsuit, your lawyer needs to investigate your claim and gather evidence to support it. To support a claim, the lawyer must show:

  • Which food caused your injury or illness
  • How the food was defective
  • What losses you have suffered as a result of your injury or illness

In some cases, the cause of your injury or illness will be clear based on an investigation by local, state, or federal officials. Thus, you can probably infer a recalled product caused your illness if you got sick after eating it. 

In other cases, your lawyer may need to use circumstantial evidence, such as the time of your illness and who else got sick, to prove the cause of your illness.

Once your lawyer has evidence to prove liability, your lawyer will file an insurance claim with the liability insurer for the producer, preparer, or retailer. The insurance company will review your claim and determine whether to pay the claim. If they pay the claim, your lawyer will negotiate for a fair settlement. If they deny the claim, your lawyer may need to file a lawsuit.

Food Contamination FAQs

Can you sue for food poisoning?

Yes. You should consult a lawyer about the evidence you need to support your lawsuit and the damages you can recover. After a minor illness, your losses might not justify a lawsuit. But if you suffer a severe illness or a loved one dies, you could seek substantial compensation in a lawsuit.

What damages can you get in a lawsuit?

You can seek compensation for both economic and non-economic losses. Economic losses include your medical costs, lost income, and out-of-pocket expenses. Non-economic losses include the diminishment in your quality of life due to pain, suffering, and disability.

How much does a food contamination lawyer cost?

Injury lawyers charge a contingency fee. Your legal fees are calculated based on the compensation the lawyer recovers for you. This means you pay legal fees only after your lawyer wins or settles your case.

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Next Steps if You Suspect Food Contamination

If you think you’ve been impacted by food contamination, it’s vital that you seek the help of an experienced attorney as soon as possible. This opens the door to financial compensation so you can restore your quality of life.

Contact McEldrew Purtell today for a free consultation.