The FDA indicates there are about 48 million cases of foodborne illness every year. Those illnesses equate to about 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. An entire law specialty now focuses on litigation of responsible parties of foodborne illness. With potentially 48 million victims, these lawyers have a very good reason to advocate. It is big money.
In the last 30+ years, major lawsuits have been brought against restaurant owners, farms, food manufacturing companies, processing plants, grocery stores, food shippers and more. Some of the foodborne illness bacteria outbreaks that have made history with large amounts of media coverage and large settlements in the courts include:
A small list of companies, restaurants, farms, dairies, stores and other entities affected by these lawsuits include:
Besides the obvious financial strain on both victims and companies from these outbreaks, the most disconcerting element to foodborne illness is the majority of these outbreaks could have been prevented with stringent attention to food safety. Both lives and livelihoods could have been protected. It can take one person in the food processing chain to create an outbreak of catastrophic result. It can be that one person who didn’t properly wash the spinach to bring a company to financial ruin.
When a company is called into question because of a foodborne illness bacteria outbreak, it has devastating consequences on that company. It is not just the settlement with victims that creates the financial burden. There is the effect on the reputation of the company, the possibility that the company can be sanctioned or no longer allowed to provide food items. Or in some case, the company may fold.
As a public, we rarely think anything of a little stomach discomfort after a sketchy burrito night. Many of us have immune systems that can fight off these foodborne illness bacteria bugs. But in the case of the very young, the elderly or people with compromised immune systems, these bacteria can cause death. As a patron of a restaurant – or when we buy a package of meat from our local store, we assume the food safety protections are in place. We assume all federal, state and local health codes are being observed.
Food safety should be at the forefront of every chef, manager, owner and employee’s mind. Each person or stop along the food supply chain should know exactly how to eliminate the bacteria that causes foodborne illness.