Legal Steps to Take If You’re Affected by Contaminated Produce
November 26, 2018 @ 10:28 am
Outbreaks of foodborne illnesses due to contaminated romaine lettuce and other produce headline the news with unsettling frequency. Authorities spend days, weeks or even months attempting to identify their sources and causes.
Meanwhile, people who unknowingly eat the contaminated food become statistics of sickness, hospital visits and even death. If it happens to you or someone you love, you may quickly find yourself wondering if there is any legal action you can take.
Contaminated Romaine Lettuce and Other Produce Food Safety Alerts
Most recently, romaine lettuce contaminated with E. coli has infected consumers in waves. Victims have become dangerously ill in at least three dozen U.S. states, as well as three provinces in Canada. Five died while many others contracted hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a type of kidney failure.
Identifying the source and affected greens was so difficult that the Centers for Disease Control recommended no one eat any romaine lettuce until further notice. E. coli, however, is not the only food safety concern for produce.
- In 2017, for example, papayas contaminated with several different strains of salmonella reached 25 states, made hundreds of people ill and resulted in at least two deaths. Complications from salmonella entering the bloodstream can be especially dangerous for young children, older adults and people with compromised immune systems.
- In 2016, nearly 200 food recalls were due to listeria. Over 50 of the recalls were products containing listeria-contaminated sunflower seeds and kernels. About another 30 recalls focused on 358 listeria-contaminated frozen fruit and vegetable products sold under 42 different brand names. Listeria attacks the central nervous system and can cause brain infections and meningitis.
- Meanwhile, norovirus remains the most common source of contamination, simply because it spreads so easily. Again, in those who are young, older or immune system-compromised, norovirus can result in extreme dehydration, malnutrition and even death.
Each year, the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration record, track and issue recalls and warnings for hundreds of reported food safety issues. All of these dangers can potentially lead to life threatening consequences. For produce, risks can be especially high because of the many items we consume raw or cold.
Legal Options for Food Poisoning Due to Contaminated Food
Food manufacturers and distribution networks harvest, package, repackage and ship fresh as well as flash-frozen produce nationwide and even internationally. When bacteria or viruses are present at an origination or preparation point, they travel with the produce, spread with the product, and infect unwary consumers who eat or come into contact with them. Therefore, if you can prove that you ate the contaminated food and that it made you sick because it was contaminated, you may have a case.
- To prove that the food was contaminated, you may have to go no further than your purchase receipt and the latest public food safety alerts. Most alerts are fairly specific because health agencies want to know the origin of whichever strain of bacteria, virus or other foodborne pathogen is responsible for the ill effects. Without a public notice, you may find that your companions, family members or other members of the public who also ate the food experienced similar symptoms indicative of food poisoning.
- To prove that the contaminated food made you sick, a visit to your healthcare provider for suspected food poisoning is in order. Your physician may request that food, blood or stool samples be tested for the presence of foodborne pathogens. Positive test results can serve as needed evidence that the contaminants adversely affected you.
Under Louisiana’s statute of limitations, generally an injured person has one year from the date of the injury to file a claim. However, in some cases under Louisiana’s discovery rule, that one-year time period start point can be reset to the date when you reasonably should have known of the illness and its connection to contaminated food. In situations where foodborne illnesses harm a large number of people, you may also be able to join a class action suit. In any case, it is important to consult with an attorney as soon as possible to ensure any such claim is preserved.
How to Get Compensation for Foodborne Illnesses
According to the CDC, more than 200 known diseases can be transmitted through food. Annually, those foodborne pathogens cause up to 81 million illnesses and 9,000 deaths. In simpler terms, each year, one in every six Americas gets sick from contaminated food. If that one in six is you or someone you care about, you can do something about it:
- Keep all receipts for the contaminated food purchase.
- Preserve all packaging and leftovers associated with the contaminated food. Place it as-is in a sealed plastic bag to ensure it doesn’t spread additional contamination.
- Visit your healthcare provider, and keep copies of all test results and other records associated with the event and your condition.
- Record important dates and events like when you ate the food, when you got sick, how badly you got sick, how the illness progressed, any medicines you took and any other details related to the incident.
- Check FoodSafety.gov as well as the CDC and FDA websites for food safety alerts that may apply to your incident.
- Report your infection to your local and state health departments to alert them to the problem and to help protect others.
If you or someone you care for is suffering the effects of foodborne illness, reach out for legal advice. Let the personal injury lawyers at Morrow, Morrow, Ryan, Bassett & Haik build a case that will win you the financial compensation due to you. Contact us through our website, or call 1-800-356-6776 for a free consultation.