We have often talked about the dangers of food poisoning, and how sometimes food poisoning isn’t just like a bout of the flu. In fact, in some cases, food poisoning is so intense that it can leave people with permanent injuries and the need for hospitalization and serious medical care. In one food poisoning case, our attorneys represented individuals who were injured from the food they ate at a conference, and they suffered injuries so severe that they incurred crippling arthritic injuries.
However, many of the times we’ve discussed food poisoning, we’ve discussed it in regards to meat. As many of us are aware, when meat is not properly handled or cooked the proper temperature, it can cause serious illness such as salmonella poisoning or e.coli. Furthermore, the manufacturers and grocers from which we buy our foods have a legal duty to inspect food for contamination and remove it from the stream of commerce where they find dangerous defects, or where a food is inherently unsafe for consumption unless properly handled (such as meats), then the seller must properly label the food product with instructions and warnings. When a danger is not removed or a customer is not warned, the consumer may suffer illness and injury as a result. However, the same goes with vegetables.
According to a recent study by the Centers For Disease Control and analyzed in an article by Vox, fruits and vegetables actually cause more instances of food poisoning than beef and chicken. The CDC analyzed cases of food poisoning from 2008 to 2012 and examined the four most common pathogens: E. coli, Campylobacter, salmonella, and listeria. Produce actually causes nearly half of all foodborne illnesses. Dairy and eggs cause approximately 20% of illnesses, fish are the cause in 6% of cases, and meat is the cause in a surprisingly 22% of cases.
It is understandable that most people would assume that meat is the highest cause of food poisoning, but there may be several factors to explain why it is not as high of a cause as fruits and vegetables. The first factor to consider is that we tend to eat our produce raw, where meat needs to be cooked to avoid injury. Because produce is eaten raw so often, many people do not take an extra step to decrease contamination, such as washing. For a second factor, the amount of fruits and vegetables Americans eat is on the rise. We not eat more produce than we did even a few years ago. Because of an increase in consumption, there is an increased exposure to illness from fruits and vegetables. Third, some processes that farms use to clean produce can actually trap illness-causing bacteria in the plants, or bacteria enter the produce through an opening or bruise. Fourth, cross-contamination can occur in large farms and processing facilities that both harvest produce and raise animals for meat.
The Food and Drug Administration provides some advice on how to minimize your risk of food poisoning from fruits and vegetables. Inspect the produce you pick out at the store, and do not purchase any that is bruised or damaged in any way. If you choose to buy produce that is precut or bagged, make sure that you buy a product that is refrigerated or iced. When your groceries are being bagged, be sure that your produce and meats are bagged separately to avoid cross-contamination. Also, be sure to store your produce in a clean refrigerator at a temperature of 40 degrees or below because these are perishable food items. When preparing and cooking foods, wash cutting boards, dishes, and utensils with soap and hot water; by doing so, you can prevent cross-contamination between meat and produce. Lastly, always wash your produce under running water before eating it, and dry it off with a clean towel to reduce the bacteria.
Unfortunately, food poisoning is extremely common. According to the same Vox article, millions of Americans gets sick from the things we eat and drink every year. Our attorneys believe that just because produce isn’t inherently dangerous to eat raw like meat products, doesn’t mean that they should be sold to us dirty or contaminated. Also, simply because Americans are choosing to increase their produce consumption and have healthier well-rounded diets does not mean we should have to be at risk of increased exposure to dangerous contaminations. When sellers and producers and consumers take the right steps to reduce bacteria, the health benefits of eating produce should not outweigh the risks. It is important to know your rights: grocers and manufacturers of foods owe you a legal duty of care to provide you with safe food products, inspect those food products for dangers, remove dangerous goods from the market, and to warn us of known dangers. Where consumers suffer injury as a result of a breached duty of care, the seller and producer can be held liable through legal action.