Compensation For Unsafe Or Contaminated Food

Official data from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) suggest that every year there are 500,000 cases of food poisoning caused by known pathogens in the UK; this figure doubles if cases involving unknown pathogens are taken into account.

Food Poisoning Compensation Claims

The true scale of those who suffer from food poisoning is thought to be underestimated because people often do not seek medical attention or legal advice after suffering from food poisoning.

Despite the prevalence of food poisoning, many people are unaware that they could be eligible for a compensation claim if they have suffered an illness or injury from undercooked or contaminated food.

Compensation is particularly prevalent in cases where you have to take time off work to recover from an illness caused by unsafe food, as you will have suffered a direct financial loss because of someone else's negligence. Other instances include a decreased quality of life because of a severe illness suffered because of unsafe, ill-prepared, or contaminated food.

Compensation claims associated with food are generally broken down into two categories, which are:

  1. Food poisoning claims
  2. Compensation for adverse reactions caused by poor or insufficient food allergy labelling

Food Poisoning Compensation

You could be eligible for compensation if you have suffered food poisoning from unsafe or contaminated products consumed at home, at a restaurant, or from a takeaway.

Many consumers do not understand their rights when it comes to claiming compensation for food poisoning, as such our Personal Injury team receive a lot of common questions from those affected by ill-prepared or contaminated food, with clients often asking:

What Is Food Poisoning?

Food poisoning is caused by eating contaminated food or drink. Symptoms can start as soon as few hours after consumption and typically include nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.

While symptoms can be violent, they do normally subside without treatment after a few days of consumption. In some instances food poisoning can worsen and symptoms can become more serious, which can result in hospitalisation or serious complications and long-term conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome and re-active arthritis.

No matter how severe the symptoms of your food poisoning, our team can help your road to recovery and will be able to advise on whether you could be eligible for compensation, the amount of which will depend on the pain suffered and the amount of financial loss caused by the food poisoning – namely through the cost of any medication or missed work during recovery.

What Is Food Poisoning?

What Are The Most Common Types Of Food Poisoning?

As food poisoning is caused by bacteria in contaminated, undercooked, or untreated food and drink, there are various types of food poisoning that can develop after consumption.

The most common causes of food poisoning in the UK are:

  • Campylobacter – This is the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK and is usually picked up from consuming raw or undercooked meat (particularly poultry), unpasteurised milk, or untreated water

    Most commonly referred to as the 'barbecue bug', campylobacter causes headaches, dizziness, fever, and severe stomach pains, vomiting is uncommon. Pains are often reported as so severe that sufferers are misdiagnosed with appendicitis.

    Symptoms can present themselves one to ten days after consumption and usually last from a single day to a full week; however a full recovery can take several weeks.

  • Salmonella – Caused by consuming raw or under cooked meat, raw eggs, milk and other dairy products

    Symptoms usually include fever, vomiting, and stomach pains. In severe cases, salmonella can cause septicaemia or peritonitis.

    Fast acting, symptoms usually present themselves 12 to 48 hours after consumption, however in some cases they can take up to four days to present. Illness can last for up to three weeks, with sufferers susceptible to carrying the bug for a further three months.

  • Listeria – Most prevalent in chilled ‘ready to go’ products, such as pre-packed sandwiches, cooked/sliced meat, pate and soft cheese

    Symptoms vary and can range from flu-like symptoms to meningitis and septicaemia. Listeria can have serious consequences for pregnant women, as it can be passed on to the unborn baby and result in a miscarriage.

    The amount of time it takes for symptoms to present varies and the onset of symptoms can occur up to 70 days after consumption. The duration of symptoms depends on the severity of the bug and the illnesses that develops.

  • E-coli (Escherichia coli) – Most commonly caused by consuming uncooked beef and unpasteurised milk.

    Symptoms include diarrhoea, vomiting, and stomach pains. Certain strains of the e-coli bug can have serious complications, with e-coli 0157 linked to kidney failure, which can be fatal.

    Symptoms usually present between 12 hours and three days after consumption, with the length of illness depending on its severity.

Some other, less common, forms of food poisoning include:

  • Botulism – This is a potentially serious illness caused by bacteria found in soil. The toxin produced by this illness effects your nerves. It can be caused by eating contaminated food, including improperly canned food and food held in warm conditions for too long
  • Shigella – This condition is most commonly contracted when food is not properly washed, but can also be developed by drinking contaminated water
  • Viruses – The most common virus contracted as a consequence of food poisoning is the norovirus, which can be passed from person to person or through the consumption of raw shellfish
  • MRSA CC398 – This is a potentially deadly bacterium that is resistant to antibiotics. It can cause skin complaints and can lead to serious and life threatening illness in individuals with weakened immune systems, which is usually caused by other health complications. It is found in pork products and can be transmitted through undercooked meat and lapses in hygiene

Illnesses do not only arise after eating undercooked food, as contaminated water can also cause violent symptoms. Exposure to unsafe water is most likely in swimming pools or spas, with waterborne bacterial infections common in hotels and resorts.

Our Holiday Claims team have experience helping clients who have developed food poisoning after swimming in dirty pools while on holiday.

What Laws Protect Me If I Have Suffered Food Poisoning?

In accordance with the Consumer Protection Act 1987, you are entitled to be supplied with food that is safe and free from harmful bacteria. If you can show that unsafe food made you ill then you are entitled to claim against:

  • The producer of the food
  • The importer of the food into the EU
  • The retailer of own brand products such as a supermarket that puts its name to the food product

Claiming compensation for food poisoning can be a complex process, especially as establishing liability for illnesses can be difficult, however our team of specialists can help explain every step of the process and will ensure you receive rightful compensation that will cover any loss and suffering.

What Should I Do If I Think I’ve Contracted Food Poisoning?

Food Poisoning Timeline

If you think you've contracted food poisoning, you should:

  • Make a list of everything you have eaten in the last 48 hours as soon as possible
  • Visit your doctor, who will take a sample of faeces – you will need to establish the type of food poisoning if you have a chance of succeeding with your claim
  • Keep receipts, for example for the restaurant, takeaway, or supermarket where you bought the food
  • If you still have the food, keep it and any packaging. Freeze the food as quickly as possible to avoid contaminating other food
  • Inform your local Environmental Health Department – they may want to investigate the Defendant premises immediately
  • Contact everyone who ate at the same place to see if anyone else fell ill, social media may be invaluable in this regard. Gather names and addresses of anyone who you think could help. The more people you can contact who also became ill, the more compelling your evidence will be
  • Contact the Defendant to tell them you intend to make a claim
  • Contact the Personal Injury team at Simpson Millar, so that we can assist you with your claim

How Much Compensation Can I Expect To Receive For Food Poisoning?

A claim for compensation can be broken down into two parts, as follows:

  • Damages for personal injury, pain, suffering and loss of amenity
  • Damages for financial losses sustained as a consequence of the accident for example, loss of earnings, travel expenses and medication

Your case will be reviewed on an individual basis and we will refer you to a medical expert, who will be able to provide details on your illness and the extent of your symptoms. They will also advise on the best course of action for you to tackle your symptoms.

JC Guidelines give a brief snapshot of the amount that could potentially be awarded in food poisoning cases; however it is important to realise that these guidelines will not apply to every case and each individual claim is considered on its own merits.

Judges can refer to the JC Guidelines when making a ruling on the amount of compensation a claimant is owed, as such these guidelines can be an important reference point when attempting to negotiate a settlement.

It is important to note that, as a general rule, you have three years from the date of your poisoning to make your claim.

Due to the complexities of proving liability, it is advisable to seek our advice and bring a claim as soon as your realise that you have suffered food poisoning.

When making a claim, it has to be proven that your illness was caused by the negligence of a third party, whether that's from a manufacturer, a supplier, or a restaurant. Having physical evidence, namely the food that made you ill, is hugely helpful but a case can be built on circumstantial evidence, for example if a large number of diners at one restaurant all reported the same illness in a similar timeframe.

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There are strict time limits for pursuing compensation for defective products, so please contact our helpline on freephone: 0808 129 3320 or alternatively complete our quick enquiry form and a member of our staff will contact you.

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Melanie Burden | Partner, Head of Personal Injury | Simpson Millar LLP

Melanie Burden
Head of Personal Injury

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