Food Poisoning Lawsuits

A look at the legal avenues available to those who have been affected by food poisoning and how they can seek compensation for their suffering and losses.

Lawsuit background and development

Settlements and verdicts

How to file a lawsuit

Understanding Food Poisoning

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that each year, approximately 48 million Americans, or 1 in 6, suffer from foodborne illnesses, leading to 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. (CDC)

Food poisoning is a common but often overlooked health issue that can have serious consequences for individuals and businesses alike. It occurs when harmful bacteria, viruses, or parasites contaminate food, leading to a range of symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.

The severity of these symptoms can vary, and sometimes it may require medical attention while in severe cases it may even require hospitalization. As a result, those affected by food poisoning may seek legal recourse to recover damages for their suffering.

Food poisoning lawsuits serve as a means for victims to hold food producers, restaurants, and other entities accountable for their negligence in ensuring food safety. By understanding the basics of food poisoning and its potential legal implications, individuals can better navigate the complexities of these cases and seek the justice they deserve.

Causes of Foodborne Illness

Foodborne illness, commonly known as food poisoning, arises from consuming contaminated food or beverages. There are various factors that can contribute to these illnesses, ranging from microbial pathogens to improper food handling practices.

The main causes of foodborne illnesses include:

Pathogen Contamination

Microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites can contaminate food at any stage of production and handling. These pathogens can enter the food supply through improper handling, cross-contamination, or contact with contaminated water, leading to illness when consumed.

According to the CDC, 31 known pathogens cause an estimated 9.4 million foodborne illnesses annually in the United States, while the remaining cases are caused by unspecified agents.


Improper Cooking Methods

Cooking food at the appropriate temperatures is crucial to kill harmful pathogens. Undercooking meat, poultry, eggs, and other animal products can leave bacteria alive, and increase the risk of foodborne illness. Proper cooking ensures that these pathogens are destroyed and the food is safe to eat.

Inadequate Food Storage

Storing perishable foods at incorrect temperatures allows bacteria and other pathogens to multiply. Refrigerating food at or below 40°F (4°C) and freezing at 0°F (-18°C) helps prevent the growth of harmful microorganisms. Improper storage, such as leaving food out at room temperature for too long, can create an environment conducive to bacterial growth.


Poor Sanitation and Hygiene

Inadequate handwashing, unclean kitchen surfaces, and unsanitary food preparation practices can contribute to the spread of foodborne pathogens.

According to the CDC, the spread of germs from the hands of food workers to food is a common cause of foodborne illness outbreaks in restaurants, accounting for nine out of ten outbreaks where food was contaminated by food workers.


Contaminated Water

Water used in food production, including washing, irrigating, or processing, can introduce pathogens if it is not clean and safe. Contaminated water can harbor bacteria, viruses, and parasites, which can then contaminate the food supply. Ensuring the use of clean and safe water is essential in preventing foodborne illnesses.

What Pathogens Most Often Cause Food Poisoning?

As we mentioned earlier, pathogens are microorganisms that can cause disease when they contaminate food. When the contaminated food is consumed, the pathogens multiply and produce toxins, leading to severe illness and discomfort, commonly known as food poisoning.

The most common pathogens that cause foodborne illnesses include:


Often referred to as the stomach flu, Norovirus is highly contagious and can spread rapidly through contaminated food or water, as well as person-to-person contact. It affects about 5.5 million people annually, resulting in approximately 14,663 hospitalizations and 149 deaths each year, making it the most common cause of foodborne illness.



Commonly found in raw poultry, eggs, and unpasteurized milk, Salmonella can cause severe gastrointestinal illness. Proper cooking and handling of these foods can prevent contamination. It causes around 1 million illnesses, leading to 19,336 hospitalizations and 378 deaths annually, marking it as having the highest hospitalization rate among the common pathogens.


Clostridium Perfringens

This bacterium thrives in environments where food is prepared in large quantities and kept warm for extended periods. It is commonly associated with outbreaks in cafeterias and catered events. It is responsible for about 966,000 illnesses per year, leading to 438 hospitalizations and 26 deaths.



Typically found in raw or undercooked poultry, Campylobacter is a leading cause of bacterial foodborne illness and it can also contaminate water and unpasteurized milk. Campylobacter causes approximately 845,000 illnesses annually, resulting in about 8,463 hospitalizations and 76 deaths.


Staphylococcus Aureus

Known for producing toxins in improperly stored foods, Staphylococcus aureus can cause rapid onset of symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, and diarrhea, often within hours of consumption. It affects around 241,000 people each year, leading to 1,064 hospitalizations and causing 6 deaths.


Foods That Commonly Cause Food Poisoning

Certain foods are more susceptible to contamination by harmful bacteria, viruses, or parasites, making them more likely to cause food poisoning. Recognizing these high-risk foods and understanding why they pose such risks can help you make safer dietary choices and avoid illness.

The foods that most commonly cause food poisoning include:

Raw and Undercooked Poultry

Chicken and turkey are often contaminated with Salmonella or Campylobacter bacteria. These pathogens can cause severe gastrointestinal illness if the poultry is not cooked to a safe temperature. According to the CDC, about 1 in every 25 packages of chicken at the grocery store is contaminated with Salmonella.


Raw and Undercooked Eggs

Eggs can harbor Salmonella bacteria, increasing the risk of infection when consumed raw or lightly cooked. According to the CDC, Salmonella can infect eggs before the shell forms, making them particularly risky if not properly cooked.

In 2018, a multistate outbreak in the US led to the recall of 206 million eggs due to Salmonella contamination, highlighting the importance of cooking eggs thoroughly to prevent illness.


Unpasteurized Dairy Products

Raw milk and cheeses made from unpasteurized milk can contain harmful bacteria such as Listeria, E. coli, and Salmonella. Pasteurization kills these pathogens, making dairy products safer to consume.

According to the CDC, although only 3.2% of the population consumes unpasteurized milk and 1.6% consumes unpasteurized cheese, these products are responsible for 96% of illnesses associated with contaminated dairy products.


Raw Seafood

Data shows that consuming raw or undercooked seafood can result in severe foodborne illnesses. Fish and shellfish, particularly oysters, can be contaminated with harmful pathogens like Vibrio bacteria, norovirus, or parasites. In the US, it's estimated that 80,000 people contract vibriosis each year from eating contaminated seafood, leading to about 100 fatalities annually.


Unwashed Fruits and Vegetables

Unwashed fruits and vegetables can harbor harmful bacteria such as E. coli, Salmonella, and Listeria. According to the CDC, fresh produce can become contaminated from the soil or water where they are grown. Properly washing fruits and vegetables can significantly reduce the risk of infection from these pathogens​.

Processed Meats

Ready-to-eat meats such as hot dogs, deli meats, and sausages can be contaminated with Listeria bacteria. In 2022, a multistate outbreak linked to deli meats and cheese infected 16 people across six states, resulting in 13 hospitalizations and one death. To prevent such infections, it is crucial to heat these products to a safe temperature before consumption.


Raw Sprouts

Alfalfa, beans, and other sprouts are grown in warm, humid conditions that are ideal for the growth of bacteria like E. coli and Salmonella. In 2022, an outbreak linked to alfalfa sprouts resulted in 63 illnesses across eight states and 10 hospitalizations​​. This is why you should avoid eating sprouts raw.


The Legal Framework of Food Poisoning Lawsuits

The legal framework surrounding food poisoning lawsuits is designed to protect consumers and ensure accountability within the food industry. When individuals suffer from foodborne illnesses, the law provides a pathway for them to seek justice and compensation.

Namely, a consumer who has been made ill by contaminated food in a restaurant or a grocery store has the right to file a lawsuit. However, their claim is valid only if they are able to prove that the food consumed was contaminated and caused them harm. This involves demonstrating that the food provider, breached a duty of care by serving unsafe food.

To support their claim, the plaintiff must present evidence such as medical records, expert testimony, and food samples. Successfully proving their case can lead to compensation for various expenses and damages, such as medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

Proving Negligence in Food Poisoning Claims

Proving negligence in food poisoning claims is a critical aspect of securing compensation for those affected by contaminated food. To establish negligence, plaintiffs must demonstrate four key elements: duty of care, breach of duty, causation, and damages.

Duty of Care

The plaintiff must first show that the defendant, such as a restaurant, grocery store, or food manufacturer, owed them a duty of care. This duty obligates the defendant to provide food that is safe for consumption and free from harmful contaminants.

Breach of Duty

Next, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant breached this duty of care by failing to meet the standards required to ensure food safety. This could involve improper food handling, storage, or preparation practices that led to contamination.

For example, a restaurant might have violated health codes by not cooking food to the proper temperature or by allowing cross-contamination between raw and cooked foods.


The plaintiff must then establish a direct link between the breach of duty and their illness. This often requires showing that the contaminated food consumed was the source of the plaintiff's food poisoning. Medical records, laboratory tests identifying the pathogen, and epidemiological evidence linking the illness to the defendant's food can be crucial in proving causation.


Finally, the plaintiff must demonstrate that they suffered actual damages as a result of the food poisoning. This includes medical expenses for treatment, lost wages due to time off work, and non-economic damages such as pain and suffering. Detailed documentation of these damages, including medical bills, employment records, and personal testimony, is essential.

That said, in some food poisoning cases, plaintiffs may pursue claims under the doctrine of strict liability in addition to or instead of negligence.

Strict Liability in Food Poisoning Claims

Strict liability is a legal doctrine that holds a defendant liable for the harm caused by their actions regardless of fault or intent. In cases where strict liability applies, the plaintiff doesn’t have to prove the four key elements we explained earlier.

In the context of food poisoning, this means that a food provider can be held responsible for selling or serving contaminated food, even if they exercised reasonable care in handling and preparing it.

In other words, in food poisoning cases where strict liability applies, the plaintiff doesn’t have to prove the four key elements we explained earlier. Instead, they only need to demonstrate that:

  • The food product was defective or contaminated when it left the manufacturer or supplier.
  • The defect or contamination made the food unreasonably dangerous to consume.
  • The defect or contamination directly caused the plaintiff's illness and resulting damages.

The advantage of strict liability for plaintiffs is that it simplifies the legal process by focusing on the condition of the product rather than the actions of the defendant. This can be especially beneficial when it is challenging to pinpoint specific acts of negligence but clear that the food product itself was unsafe.

Notable Cases and Precedents

Over the years, several high-profile food poisoning cases have significantly shaped the legal framework surrounding food safety and consumer protection. These notable cases and precedents have not only highlighted the importance of stringent regulations but also set critical standards for liability and accountability in the food industry.

McDonald's Cyclospora Lawsuit

One of the most notable cases in recent history is the McDonald's Cyclospora lawsuit. In 2018, a significant outbreak of Cyclospora, a parasitic infection, was traced back to salads served at McDonald's restaurants across multiple states. The outbreak resulted in over 500 reported cases of illness and prompted a recall of the contaminated products.

Victims of the outbreak experienced severe symptoms, including debilitating diarrhea, stomach cramps, fatigue, and weight loss. Some individuals required hospitalization due to the severity of their symptoms.

In response to the outbreak, McDonald's took swift action to mitigate the damage and restore consumer confidence. The company removed the affected salads from approximately 3,000 restaurants and switched to a different supplier for their produce.


Chipotle Salmonella Lawsuit

Another significant food poisoning case worth discussing is the Chipotle Salmonella lawsuit. In 2015, Chipotle Mexican Grill faced multiple outbreaks of foodborne illnesses, including Salmonella, E. coli, and norovirus, affecting customers across several states.

These outbreaks led to over 1,100 reported cases of illness, with the Salmonella outbreak alone sickening 64 people in Minnesota, prompting a federal investigation. The inquiry revealed that Chipotle's failure to implement and maintain adequate food safety protocols was the primary cause of the foodborne illnesses.

As a result, in 2020, Chipotle agreed to pay a $25 million federal fine, the largest ever imposed in a food safety case. In addition to the fine, Chipotle committed to improving its food safety standards by enhancing employee training, implementing stricter food handling procedures, and increasing oversight of its supply chain​.


Damsy Restaurant E. Coli Lawsuit

Another prominent food poisoning incident involves the Damsy Restaurant in Rochester, Minnesota. In 2017, a severe E. coli outbreak was linked to the restaurant, affecting at least eight individuals. Four of these victims required hospitalization, suffering from intense symptoms such as debilitating diarrhea, stomach cramps, and fatigue.

The subsequent investigations conducted by Olmsted County Public Health Services and the Minnesota Department of Health identified Damsy Restaurant as the source of the contamination.

Legal action was taken on behalf of the affected families to seek damages and stress the necessity for stringent food safety protocols to avert future outbreaks. This case underscored the vital importance of maintaining high food safety standards in the restaurant industry to protect public health​.


La Luz Restaurant in Old Town Fort Collins Associated with Salmonella Outbreak

Another significant food poisoning incident involves La Luz Mexican Grill in Old Town Fort Collins. In August 2018, an outbreak of salmonella linked to the restaurant resulted in 31 confirmed cases of illness. Five individuals required hospitalization due to severe symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, fever, fatigue, and headache.

A Larimer County investigation identified La Luz Mexican Grill as the source of the contamination. The restaurant voluntarily closed on August 21 and has not reopened since. Legal action was taken by two law firms on behalf of the affected customers, arguing that La Luz failed to exercise reasonable care in the preparation of its food.

One lawsuit was filed on behalf of Fort Collins residents Jeffrey Allen, Marie Allen, and their five-year-old son, who experienced acute salmonella symptoms after eating at the restaurant. This case underscores the importance of stringent food safety practices to prevent such outbreaks and protect public health.


Pursuing a Food Poisoning Lawsuit

Pursuing a food poisoning lawsuit can be a complex process, but it is a necessary step to seek justice and compensation for the suffered harm. Claimants must gather the necessary evidence, such as medical records, receipts, and any remaining food samples, to establish a direct link between their illness and the contaminated food.

Additionally, they must identify and interview witnesses who can corroborate their case, such as dining companions or employees from the food establishment. Moreover, navigating complex legal requirements, such as the statute of limitations and other jurisdictional issues can make the entire process even more challenging and daunting.

For this reason, consulting with an experienced attorney who specializes in food poisoning cases is essential, as they can expertly guide claimants through the legal intricacies, increasing the chances of a successful outcome.

Key Factors of a Successful Food Poisoning Claim

Navigating a food poisoning claim is complex and its success hinges on a variety of factors. Circumstances like delayed reporting and insufficient evidence can complicate the process and make things more challenging. However, there are five key factors that can make all the difference and significantly enhance the success of your case.

Prompt Reporting

Reporting the incident as soon as possible is essential because it ensures that the illness is documented and can be traced back to the food consumed. This establishes a clear timeline, which is crucial in linking your symptoms to the specific food source.

Delays in reporting can make it difficult to prove that the food was the cause of the illness, as other factors might be considered.

Identifying the Source

Another critical factor is pinpointing the exact source of contamination. This involves identifying the specific restaurant, food product, or supplier responsible for the food poisoning. Doing so helps hold the correct party accountable and avoids generalizations that could weaken the case.

Accurately identifying the source can also prevent future incidents by bringing attention to the need for improved food safety practices in that establishment or by that manufacturer.

Gathering Evidence

Collecting comprehensive evidence is the backbone of a successful food poisoning claim. This includes medical records, which provide proof of the diagnosis and severity of the poisoning, as well as receipts that link the food purchased to the contaminated source.

Witness statements can also corroborate your account, and photographs of the food or unsanitary conditions can further substantiate your claim. This evidence collectively strengthens your case by providing tangible proof of the contamination and its impact on your health.

Legal Representation

Securing a skilled lawyer who specializes in food poisoning claims is also vital. An experienced attorney who understands the legal complexities involved can navigate them effectively. They can advocate on your behalf, and ensure that all legal procedures are followed correctly.

They can also negotiate with the opposing party or insurance companies to secure the best possible outcome. A knowledgeable lawyer can significantly increase your chances of winning the case and obtaining fair compensation.

Health Department Involvement

Contacting the local health department can be incredibly beneficial for your claim. The health department can conduct an official investigation, which may uncover patterns of contamination and provide additional evidence to support your claim.

Their findings can corroborate your personal evidence and add credibility to your case. Moreover, an investigation by a public health authority can put pressure on the responsible party to settle the claim more favorably.

Gathering Evidence of Food Poisoning and Food Contamination

As we already established, gathering evidence is a crucial step in building a strong food poisoning claim. This evidence substantiates your case by providing concrete proof of the contamination and its impact on your health.

There are several types of evidence needed in a food poisoning case, each of which contributes to building a comprehensive and convincing argument. By meticulously gathering and organizing this evidence, you can create a strong foundation for your food poisoning claim, enhancing the likelihood of a successful outcome.

Medical Records

These are essential as they document the diagnosis and treatment of food poisoning. Medical records provide a timeline of symptoms, medical evaluations, and treatments received, establishing a clear link between the food consumed and the illness experienced.

Lab results confirming the presence of pathogens commonly associated with food poisoning, such as Salmonella or E. coli, are particularly compelling.

Receipts and Proof of Purchase

These documents link the contaminated food to the source. Receipts from the restaurant or store where the food was purchased are critical in identifying the exact product or meal that caused the illness. If the food was part of a larger event, such as a catered function, obtaining a copy of the menu and any related documentation can also be helpful.

Photographs and Videos

Visual evidence of the food in question or the conditions in which it was prepared and served can be very persuasive. Photos of the food, especially if it appears spoiled or contaminated, can directly support your claim. Additionally, images or videos of unsanitary conditions at the establishment where the food was prepared can highlight potential sources of contamination.

Witness Statements

Statements from individuals who witnessed the purchase, preparation, or consumption of the food can corroborate your account. If others who consumed the same food also fell ill, their testimonies can significantly strengthen your case. Witnesses can provide context and additional details that support your claim, making it more robust.

Health Department Reports

If the local health department conducts an investigation and finds violations or patterns of contamination, their reports can be invaluable. These reports are official documents that carry significant weight in legal proceedings, adding credibility to your claim. They may include inspection results, citations, and corrective actions required by the establishment.

Expert Testimony

In some cases, expert testimony from food safety specialists, microbiologists, or epidemiologists may be necessary. These experts can provide detailed explanations of how the contamination occurred, the potential sources, and the expected health effects. Their professional opinions can help to clarify complex aspects of your case and persuade the court of the validity of your claim.

The Time You Have to Take Legal Action

Reporting the food poisoning incident early and taking prompt legal action is not only critical for establishing a clear timeline but also necessary to adhere to the legal deadlines applicable to food poisoning lawsuits.

Namely, the legal concept known as a statute of limitations defines the period within which you must file your claim to seek compensation. If you fail to file within the time period specified by the law, you may lose the right to pursue compensation, regardless of the merit of your case.

The statute of limitations varies by jurisdiction and the specifics of the case, so it's important to be aware of the timeframe in your area. Typically, the clock starts ticking from the date of the incident or when the harm was discovered.

In most US states, the statute of limitations for filing a food poisoning lawsuit generally spans between two and three years. However, the timeframes can differ significantly, and in some states, the period may be as short as one year or as long as six years

Consulting with a lawyer early on can help ensure that all necessary actions are taken within the appropriate timeframe and that you are fully informed about your legal rights and options. This proactive approach can significantly increase your chances of a successful outcome in your food poisoning claim.

The Importance of Securing Legal Representation

Hiring the right lawyer for your case of food poisoning is of the utmost importance as it can significantly impact the outcome of your claim. Lawyers have a multifaceted role in navigating the complexities of legal procedures and their expertise spans from gathering and analyzing evidence to negotiating settlements and representing you in court.

Ultimately, securing legal representation provides you with the expertise and support needed to navigate the complexities of a food poisoning claim, allowing you to focus on your recovery while maximizing your chances of a successful outcome.

Gathering and Analyzing Evidence

A skilled lawyer can help collect and scrutinize evidence crucial to your case. This includes medical records, witness statements, and documentation linking your illness to the contaminated food. They can also work with experts to establish the source and cause of the food poisoning, strengthening your claim.

Navigating Legal Procedures

Food poisoning cases involve intricate legal procedures that must be followed precisely. An experienced attorney ensures that all filings are completed correctly and timely, adhering to the statute of limitations and other legal requirements specific to your jurisdiction.

Negotiating Settlements

Lawyers play a crucial role in negotiating with insurance companies and opposing parties. Their goal is to secure a fair settlement that adequately compensates you for your medical expenses, lost wages, and suffering. They leverage their knowledge of similar cases and legal precedents to advocate effectively on your behalf.

Court Representation

If a settlement cannot be reached, having a lawyer who can competently represent you in court is vital. They can present a compelling case, cross-examine witnesses, and counter the defense's arguments, aiming to achieve the best possible outcome.


Several foodborne illnesses exist, but the most commonly reported ones are caused by Norovirus, Salmonella, and Campylobacter. These pathogens commonly contaminate food and water, leading to widespread outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness​.

Food poisoning cases vary widely in their settlement amounts, depending on several factors, such as the severity of the illness, the number of people affected, and the degree of negligence involved. Generally, individual settlements for food poisoning lawsuits can range from a few thousand dollars to over $500,000.

Yes, you can get compensation for food poisoning if you can prove that the illness was caused by the negligence of another party, such as a restaurant, food manufacturer, or distributor. Claimants that win their food poisoning cases can win several different types of damages including compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, wrongful death, and others.

Explore your legal options

Submit your inquiry through our contact form to start your search for legal assistance. Our directory connects you with experienced lawyers in a variety of practice areas, ensuring you have access to advice when you need it most.

  1. Nationwide database
  2. Experienced professionals