Food Poisoning Lawsuits

Food poisoning lawsuits are becoming more common, and scientific testing can accurately determine the type of bacteria that caused the illness. Although testing is more accurate now, it is still difficult to determine the cause of food poisoning, unless other people are also affected. If anyone suspects that he or she contracted a food-borne illness, it is important to know the different types of potential food poisoning, the legal theories that apply and what you need to prove if you decide to file a lawsuit.

What Is Food Poisoning?

Food poisoning, also referred to as food-borne illness, is caused by agents that enter the body through the ingestion of food. Infectious organisms including various bacteria, viruses and parasites are the most common cause of food poisoning. Harmful toxins and chemicals (noninfectious agents) can also cause illness but are less common.

How Does Food Get Contaminated?

Food usually becomes contaminated as a result of improper food processing, handling, preparation and/or storage. According to the World Health Organization, there are around 77 million cases of food poisoning each year in the United States, resulting in several hundred thousand hospitalizations and approximately 9,000 deaths.

Types of Food Poisoning

Salmonellosis (Salmonella)

This is caused by the Salmonella bacteria, which is usually found in eggs, poultry and other meats, raw fruits and vegetables, unpasteurized milk and chocolate.

Salmonella Symptoms:

  • Fever,
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain and diarrhea

When do Symptoms Appear?

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), symptoms appear within 6 hours to 6 days.


This is an infection caused by certain species of Campylobacter bacteria, and is often caused by raw or undercooked chicken, unpasteurized milk and fruits and vegetables. It is easy to become ill from as little as one drop of raw chicken juice.

Campylobacteriosis Symptoms:

  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Can lead to chronic health problems, including reactive arthritis and neurological disorders.

When do Symptoms Appear?

According to the CDC, symptoms appear within 2-5 days.

Eschericia coli (E. coli)

This is bacteria that is typically found in animals such as cattle. Most E. coli infections come from consumption of undercooked or raw ground beef or unpasteurized milk.

e. coli symptoms:

  • Severe Stomach Cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever

When do Symptoms Appear?

According to the CDC, symptoms appear within 3-4 days.

Listeriosis (Listeria)

Listeria is a serious infection that primarily affects pregnant women, infants, people with compromised immune systems, and older adults. Recent food poisoning from Listeria has occurred from consuming dairy products and produce, including, soft cheese, ice cream, bean sprouts, celery and cantaloupe.

Listeria Symptoms:

Pregnant Women:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches
  • Can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth or life-threatening infection to a newborn.

Other Individuals:

  • Headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Loss of balance
  • Fever
  • Muscle aches

When do Symptoms Appear?

According to the CDC, symptoms of Listeria typically appear within 1-4 weeks, but can take even longer.

Other Common Illnesses that are Occasionally Food-borne

Although usually transmitted by other routes, infections caused by Shigella, Hepatitis A and by the parasites, Giardia lamblia and Cryptosporidia, can sometimes result in food poisoning.

How Can I Prove That I Had Food Poisoning?

Proving that you developed food poisoning from a specific food and source is not easy. These are some important elements that you will need to show.

You Became Sick – You must demonstrate that you became ill with symptoms of gastrointestinal disease, or other side effects associated with your illness. Even if you do not know the specific name of your illness, you should see a physician and document the symptoms.

Length of Time – Food poisoning can occur relatively quickly, within 2-6 hours, or can take several days or weeks, so an important element of proving food poisoning is to document the onset of symptoms. If others also became ill, it may be easier to show a nexus.

Food was Contaminated – It is also crucial to show what food you ate and that it was contaminated. Testing of the food as well as a stool sample are the best ways to find out what if any infectious disease is present. All the samples tested must contain the same type of bacteria in order to demonstrate a connection between the food and illness.

What Laws Apply to Food Poisoning Cases?

Food poisoning cases are like product liability lawsuits where a product is purchased, and injury occurs. In this case the product is food and the poisoning or contamination is the defect.

Strict Liability – In most states there are strict product liability laws, which means that all you must do is demonstrate that you ate contaminated food and it caused your illness. There is no requirement to prove that the restaurant or food store failed to exercise care in the preparation or distribution of the food.

Negligence – In those states without strict product liability laws, you can establish a claim of food poisoning based upon a theory of negligence. This means that you need to show that the defendant did not exercise reasonable care when preparing or distributing the food you consumed.

Breach of Warranties – A warranty is a minimum standard that applies to a product such as food. A violation or breach of these standards, known as implied warranties, may provide a cause of action for food poisoning. For example, if you eat in a restaurant and the food is contaminated, the restaurant has an implied duty to serve fresh food. There can also be express warranties on a food label such as “Triple Washed,” on salad greens. Contamination would be a breach of an express warranty.

Who is Liable for Food Poisoning?

The liability for food poisoning includes a variety of individuals and entities, depending upon how you contracted the illness. It is important to consult an attorney to assist in helping to determine all the potential entities and individuals in your food distribution chain.

The Food Processing Company – This includes a farm, animal slaughterhouse or other entity that participated in processing the food. There, the food may have already become contaminated before it was shipped.

Retailer – This includes a grocery store where the food was purchased or a restaurant where food was consumed. Employees in these entities may not have adhered to food preparation, storage and handling guidelines that cause the food to become contaminated.

What Do I Need to File a Food Poisoning Lawsuit?

You can file a lawsuit against any individual or entity that was responsible for producing, distributing or preparing the contaminated food you ate. Still, proving food poisoning is difficult, so before filing your lawsuit, it is important to consult an experienced attorney who will assist you in determining the facts of your situation.

Damages – First, it is important to decide what, if any, damages you incurred as a result of the food poisoning. If your illness was relatively mild and did not cause significant medical treatment, time away from work, hospitalization or other damages, you may not want to pursue legal action. Examples of damages include:

  • Medical Bills
  • Loss of Income
  • Out of Pocket Expenses
  • Emotional Distress
  • Pain and Suffering

Causation – An important element of proof is that an entity or individual caused the food you ate to become contaminated, and that food is the reason you became sick. Scientific testing is necessary to support causation. An attorney can advise you regarding the food and medical testing required to prove your case.

Did Others Get Sick? – An attorney may be aware of a class action lawsuit that was filed regarding the same food and chain of distribution. In addition, you may be aware of others who also became ill at the same time. This information will strengthen your claim.

When Do I Need to File My Lawsuit?

It is best to consult an attorney to find out the length of time, known as the statute of limitations, that applies in your state. Typically, a food poisoning lawsuit needs to be filed in a relatively short period of time such as one year.

Types of Class Actions for Food Poisoning

When there is a widespread incidence of food poisoning from the same source, a class action lawsuit is the best way to resolve the claims. These are some examples of class action lawsuits for food poisoning.

ConAgra Peanut Butter Lawsuit

What Happened?

Between 2006 and 2007, hundreds of individuals in 47 states, became ill from Salmonella poisoning linked to peanut butter brands produced by ConAgra Foods (later renamed Conagra Brands). Following an investigation by the federal Centers for Disease Control and state health departments, the contamination was traced to a plant in Georgia.

In addition, the Justice Department launched a criminal investigation regarding the food contamination. Charges were filed for shipping adulterated food.

What was the Penalty?

Conagra agreed to a deal with the Justice Department that included an $11.2 million settlement and a criminal fine of $8 million.

How Much Did Plaintiffs Get?

The plaintiffs received the $11.2 million settlement which was divided among them. after payment of attorneys’ fees and costs. The exact amount of each payment is confidential.

Chipotle Lawsuits

What Happened?

Chipotle was implicated in numerous food-borne illness lawsuits over the last several years. The most recent occurred between 2015 and 2018, when outbreaks of E. coli, Salmonella and Norovirus, caused hundreds of customers to become ill in many different states.

What was the ?

In addition to payments made to settle some of the claims, Chipotle was subject to a criminal investigation by the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigations. The company received numerous subpoenas requesting information regarding food safety issues dating as far back as 2013. As of 2019, Chipotle was still undergoing criminal investigation.

How Much Did Plaintiffs Get?

Chipotle eventually agreed to settle approximately 100 claims that were supported by medical testing. The terms of the settlement are confidential.

Contact Us

If you or a family member is suffering or has suffered from food poisoning, and you would like to speak to a professional regarding your rights, please fill out the free case evaluation form and an experienced member of Seeger Weiss LLP’s staff will contact you. Initial consultations are free of charge and do not create a legal relationship.



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