Food poisoning—any illness or disease that results from eating contaminated food—affects millions of Americans each year. While the American food supply is among the safest in the world, the federal government estimates that there are about 48 million cases of foodborne illness annually—the equivalent of sickening 1 in 6 Americans each year. And each year these illnesses result in an estimated 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths.
Causes of Food Poisoning
• Bacteria and Viruses: Bacteria and viruses are the most common cause of food poisoning. The symptoms and severity of food poisoning vary, depending on which bacteria or virus has contaminated the food.
• Parasites: Parasites are organisms that derive nourishment and protection from other living organisms known as hosts. In the United States, the most common foodborne parasites are protozoa, roundworms, and tapeworms.
• Molds, Toxins, and Contaminants: Most food poisoning is caused by bacteria, viruses, and parasites rather than toxic substances in the food. But some cases of food poisoning can be linked to either natural toxins or added chemical toxins.
• Allergens: Food allergy is an abnormal response to a food triggered by your body's immune system. Some foods, such as nuts, milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, or soybeans can cause allergic reactions in people with food allergies.
Symptoms of Food Poisoning
Symptoms may range from mild to severe and differ depending on the germ you swallowed. The most common symptoms of food poisoning include:
• Upset stomach
• Stomach cramps
Serious long-term effects associated with several common types of food poisoning include:
• Kidney failure
• Chronic arthritis
• Brain and nerve damage
People at Increased Risk
Certain groups of people are more susceptible to foodborne illness. This means that they are more likely to get sick from contaminated food and, if they do get sick, the effects are much more serious. These groups include:
• Pregnant women
• Children younger than 5 years
• Adults age 65 and older
• People whose immune systems are weakened due to illness or medical treatment
Restaurant Liability for Food Poisoning
A restaurant may have liability (legal responsibility) for negligence in serving a customer a defective food product that causes food poisoning illness in the customer.
One of the biggest challenges for a customer who believes they got food poisoning at a certain restaurant is proving the legal element of causation—that the restaurant’s food caused the illness, and not food from another source (home or another restaurant)—or that the illness was caused by food at all, rather than another bacteria, virus, or contaminant.
Liability claims against a restaurant for food poisoning may be based on negligence, product liability, or breach of implied warranty theories, but the severity of the illness and the amount of damages that can be proven—medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, emotional distress, serious bodily injury, or death—often determine whether legal action is warranted.