Most Georgians likely remember the Peanut Corporation of America processing plant in Blakely that was shut down after 714 people fell ill due to Salmonella poisoning, nine of whom died. The epidemic infected people in 46 states. The company sold its products to schools, airlines and nursing homes across the country as well as well-known food manufacturing companies like Kraft and Sara Lee.
Inspectors found deplorable sanitary conditions at the plant, including an infestation of rats. The CEO and other officers were, in a rare case, criminally prosecuted and convicted for knowingly shipping contaminated products. Among other violations, the products were shipped with certificates verifying they had been tested for Salmonella when, in fact, they had not been tested and the CEO knew they had not been tested. In December 2015, those responsible were sentenced to spend essentially the rest of their lives in prison.
Food poisoning is not uncommon. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 48 million people in the U.S. suffer from food poisoning every year. Approximately 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 of those die. The most common food-borne illness is Salmonella, costing $365 million in medical costs annually.
How Food Becomes Contaminated
Food can become contaminated at any stage of the process from growing, processing, handling and packaging. Some bacteria are introduced into food that is irrigated with water contaminated by animal feces. But, most commonly, contaminants find their way into food when infected food handlers do not properly wash their hands before handling food items. Cross contamination occurs when the same utensil used on a contaminated product is used on another product without having been properly washed. Some foods, such as raw meat, are undercooked so the disease causing microbes are not killed.
Beware of Restaurants and Grocery Stores
In 2015, approximately sixty Chipotle restaurants in 14 states suffered from E. coli outbreaks. Similar outbreaks of Salmonella and norovirus were also linked to the chain. On February 8, 2016, all Chipotle restaurants in all states were closed for a few hours so management could educate its employees on proper food handling techniques. Chipotle’s reputation suffered and its stock plummeted. It hopes the news of its dedication to improving conditions by its in-service education across the country will wipe away its negative image.
In New York, hundreds of McDonald’s diners were recently informed they may have been infected with Hepatitis A when it was discovered one of the employees had the illness and the virus may have been transmitted in the food. McDonald’s conducted a free vaccination clinic in its parking lot.
In January 2016, the Dole food processing plant in Ohio was shut down when 15 people in eight states contracted Listeria, a food borne illness that had invaded Dole’s pre-washed salad products. Recently, three more victims were affected bringing the toll to 18, all of whom were ill enough to be hospitalized. One man died. Listeria finds its way into fresh vegetables and fruit when the soil is contaminated. It is also found in raw meat and soft cheeses. Even though it is in the soil, an infectious disease specialist stated that “If they’re employing good sterilization, it’s something that’s preventable.”
In December 2015, 166 bushels of fresh cucumbers sold in Georgia were recalled when inspectors found them contaminated with salmonella. Earlier this month, a Bi-Lo grocery store in Glenville, Georgia recalled cantaloupe products sold in fruit trays and fruit bowls when it found evidence they were contaminated with Listeria. The contamination was discovered during routine testing. To date, no illnesses have been reported.
What You Need to Know
If you are eating in a Georgia restaurant, be aware that they are only inspected once, possibly twice, a year. Take it upon yourself to watch for food servers who appear ill. Check to see if food preparers wear gloves. Keep in mind that food temperatures vary at buffets. When buying produce at the grocery store, avoid pre-packaged items and wash all produce yourself.
If you do become ill, all those involved in food processing, from the growers to those who are the last to handle the food before it comes to you, have a duty to provide you food uncontaminated by diseases that make you ill. When they are negligent, they can be held liable for the damages you suffer. This includes compensation for your medical bills, the wages you lost due to your illness, and your pain and suffering.
Contact a Food Poisoning Attorney
If you got sick after eating contaminated food, or someone you love died from food poisoning, contact our attorneys at Georgia Trial Attorneys at Kirchen & Grant, LLC., for a free and confidential consultation.