Food Poisoning: An Overview

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Food poisoning falls under the realm of product liability for the most part, which makes these cases quite similar to cases involving injury from a defective product. Food poisoning is an incredibly common, most often mild, but sometimes deadly illness that affects millions of people across the country each year. The symptoms of food poisoning include vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, abdominal cramping and they occur 48 hours after the consumption of a contaminated drink or food. Depending on the severity of the poisoning other, more severe symptoms include fever, chills, bloody stools, dehydration and even nervous system damage. Food poisoning can affect one person or it can affect an entire group of people if they all ate or drank the same thing. When food poisoning affects and entire group of people it is referred to as an outbreak. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that nearly 76 million illnesses are caused by food poisoning on an annual basis. Also, 325,000 hospitalizations occur each year with close to 5,000 deaths because of food poisoning. The most common form of food poisoning, salmonella, causes well over $1 billion in medical costs and lost wages each year. The most leading cause of death from food poisoning worldwide is diarrhea. As of right now, the Centers for Disease Control estimate that close to 250 diseases can be transmitted through the use of drink or food. Not all food poisoning cases are reported each year because people might suffer from mild symptoms and recover rather quickly. It is the more severe cases that are reported and discussed by national media outlets each year that get the most attention.

Infectious Agents

The causes of food poisoning can be divided into two main groups and the first of those groups is infectious agents. Infectious agents are anything that can include viruses, bacteria, and parasites.

Toxic Agents

The second group of causes of food poisoning is toxic agents. Toxic agents are poisonous mushrooms, improperly prepared exotic foods such as barracuda, and pesticides on fruits and vegetables. Food involved in food poisoning cases can usually become infected as a result of poor sanitation or preparation. If a food handler has an infection, that infection can be transferred to the food he or she is preparing quite easily. Also, if a food handler does not wash his or her hands when done in the bathroom, bacteria from urine and other waste can be transferred onto food and into drink.

Seeking Medical Care

Anyone with the following symptoms of food poisoning should seek medical care:

  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea lasts for more than two days.
  • The ill person is younger than three years.
  • The abdominal symptoms are associated with a low-grade fever.
  • Symptoms begin after recent foreign travel.
  • Other family members or friends who ate the same thing are also sick.
  • The ill person cannot keep any liquids down.
  • The ill person does not improve within two days even though they are drinking large amounts of fluids.
  • The ill person has a disease or illness that weakens their immune system (for example, HIV/AIDS, cancer and undergoing chemotherapy, kidney disease).
  • The ill person cannot take their normal prescribed medications because of vomiting.
  • The ill person has any nervous system symptoms such as slurred speech, muscle weakness, double vision, or difficulty swallowing.

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