Restaurant Liability/Food Poisoning

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases. Estimating illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths for various types of diseases is a common and important public health practice. Although the majority of these illnesses are short-lived, many people have died from food poisoning. Foodborne illnesses are almost always caused by the improper growing, processing, distribution, or preparation of food. For instance, produce may become contaminated with certain germs and cause people who ingest them to develop E. coli, Salmonella or Shigella food poisonings.

Restaurants are responsible for keeping their foods fresh and safe for consumption. Cooked food that is left unrefrigerated invites bacteria growth, which ultimately can lead to food poisoning outbreaks. Additionally, restaurants must comply with food safety guidelines to ensure that they do not place the public at risk of food poisoning outbreaks. For example, the federal government sets mandatory cooking temperatures for certain types of meat to ensure that any potential harmful bacteria or parasites are destroyed. Freezing meats for a particular length of time, at a constant specified temperature, can also kill such bacteria and parasites. Irradiation may also be used on foods to make them safe for consumption. More and more, chefs at many upscale restaurants are attempting to serve cooked meats rarer and rarer in order to make them more flavorful, but at the same time are exposing their patrons to serious risks of severe foodborne illnesses. Despite the use of a meat thermometer being the only reliable way to test food temperature, many chefs fail to use one, and thereby place their patrons at great risk.

Food poisoning symptoms may occasionally be long-term and destructive to one’s health and enjoyment of life. And, in some instances, there might not be any real treatment available. The potentially serious consequences of food poisoning necessitate the need for food liability among both food manufacturers and restaurants, to ensure safe risk management programs.

Mr. Grenier has been involved in over 100 food poisoning cases, involving such conditions as Norwalk-like viruses, E. coli, and trichinosis.

As the CDC rightly observes, challenges to food safety will continue to arise in unpredictable ways, largely due to:

  • Changes in our food production and supply
  • Changes in the environment leading to food contamination
  • Rising number of multistate outbreaks
  • New and emerging germs, toxins, and antibiotic resistance
  • New and different contaminated foods, such as prepackaged raw cookie dough, bagged spinach, and peanut butter, causing illness

Restaurants can also be held responsible for other types of injuries that occur on their premises. For example, a server drops a glass near a beverage station, and shards of glass fall into the ice supply. A patron is served a beverage containing glass-contaminated ice, and ingests a shard of glass, leading to severe esophageal injury and potentially death.

Or a food preparer fails to ensure that a patron’s stated allergies are properly addressed by the food preparers in the kitchen. A chef might negligently use a pan that previously contained peanut sauce, to prepare a chocolate sauce, the chocolate sauce becomes cross-contaminated with peanut residue, it is served to the patron with the peanut allergy, and that patron suffers anaphylactic shock and dies.

Restaurants also have duties to maintain their premises in a safe condition for their patrons. A grease spill on the floor can cause patron to slip, fall and suffer serious injury.

Or a passing waiter might drop a tray containing hot soup or coffee on a patron and cause severe burn injuries.

If you or a family member has suffered food poisoning with severe consequences, or otherwise been injured while at a restaurant, please contact GLG and we will provide you with a free initial consultation.