Food Poisoning: Why It's Hard To Prove Product Liability Claims

Posted on: 16 December 2015

Experts estimate that 48 million Americans become ill as a result of food poisoning every year. What's more, 128,000 of these people have to go to hospital and 3,000 people die. American retailers must adhere to strict food handling and hygiene regulations, but food poisoning can still affect shoppers, resulting in time off work, medical bills and other unwanted expenses. Nonetheless, if you intend to file a lawsuit against a retailer for food poisoning, you may find it difficult to prove your product liability claim. Find out why.

The causes of food poisoning

Food poisoning can occur for several reasons, but there are four main causes. These include

  • Bacteria and viruses
  • Parasites and organisms
  • Mold, toxins or other contaminants
  • Food allergens

Manufacturers and food retailers must take all possible stops to prevent food poisoning from their products, and precautionary measures can cut the risk of contamination or illness in all four cases. For example, storing and preparing food at the right temperature can cut the risk of a bacterial or viral infection. When it comes to food allergens, a retailer cannot control how a customer's body reacts to the food, but the manufacturer must make sure the product packaging warns the buyer about any ingredients that may cause an allergic reaction.

Food poisoning liability

If a product makes you ill, your attorney may recommend a product liability claim, where you will claim that the item was defective or faulty. State laws will generally dictate the extent to which you need to prove your claim.

For example, many states now have strict product liability laws, which mean you don't have to categorically prove that the manufacturer or retailer were negligent. Nonetheless, in these states, you will still have to prove that the food was defective (contaminated) and that this defect made you ill. Where states don't observe these product liability laws, you will also have to prove that that the manufacturer or retailer was negligent and that this negligence led to your illness.

So why is it so hard to prove these claims?

The challenges you will face

When it comes to proving that a product is defective, your biggest enemy is usually time. In many cases, even an experienced attorney can find it hard to prove that food is contaminated and/or this contamination led to your illness because every food poisoning case is fraught with variables.

For example, food poisoning symptoms range in severity. Some infections can lead to mild symptoms that you may not even realise relate to the food, such as a minor headache. Other infections are more serious and can cause diarrhea, vomiting and fever. In any case, you may suffer symptoms from food poisoning as soon as 30 minutes after your meal or as much as two weeks later.

Unsurprisingly, the defendant's attorney will often argue that it is not possible to tie the food poisoning to the defendant's product. These cases become particularly difficult if you are unaware of anyone else suffering the same symptoms.

What's more, even if you can prove that food was contaminated, you cannot always prove that the contamination caused your symptoms. Food poisoning symptoms are common to many medical conditions, and a defendant's attorney will argue that you cannot pinpoint the food to your illness.

What you should do

Although every case is different, certain actions can improve your chances of successfully proving your claim.

As soon as you become ill, get the product packaging out of the trash, and place it in a vacuum-sealed bag. After scientific analysis, you can sometimes use the packaging to prove contamination from certain substances or germs. Try to find the original receipt for your purchase so you can prove the date and time you bought the product. It is useful if you can show that the product's sell-by date had expired when you bought it.

Report the problem to the retailer and/or the manufacturer as soon as possible. These companies must keep details of all the complaints filed by customers. If the company's records show multiple complaints about the same items, it may become necessary to issue a product recall. A recall can quickly strengthen your claim.

Visit your doctor as soon as possible. In some cases, your doctor may suggest a stool sample. These samples will sometimes show the same contaminants as the food packaging, which can help prove that the contaminated food made you ill.

Food poisoning can lead to serious and unpleasant symptoms. Talk to an experienced attorney to find out how you can claim compensation from a manufacturer or retailer for a defective product. Check out websites like for more information.