Food borne illness is surprisingly common in Australia with an estimated 5.4 million cases each year. Food poisoning can have serious, long-lasting medical consequences and is responsible for about 120 deaths each year. Young and elderly people are especially at risk of becoming sick from contaminated food.
Food vendors, producers and manufacturers have a duty to conduct their operations in such a way that the food they produce is safe for human consumption and is not exposed to contamination. If a food vendor is found to have breached food safety regulations and standards, they can face significant statutory penalties. If people become sick as a result of consuming contaminated food, the vendor may also be liable for any injuries and loss they suffer.
You may be able to make a public place injury compensation claim for food poisoning if you can prove that your illness occurred because the person who made or sold you the contaminated food was negligent.
Proving liability for food poisoning can be difficult, especially where yours is an isolated incident. Unless you can point to a cluster of simultaneous cases which followed consumption of food from a common source, it may be difficult to establish that the bacteria or virus was from the food, or whether it was picked up from some other source.
Incubation periods for the different types of viruses and bacteria that cause food poisoning can vary considerably from a few hours to up to 70 days. Longer incubation periods can open up a large window of time which must be examined to identify where a person may have contracted the relevant bacteria or virus.
A number of factors can be examined to determine whether a case of food poisoning can be attributed to a particular vendor:
If your illness resulted from your own negligent handling of a food product that you purchased from a restaurant or store, (such as leaving it unrefrigerated for a period of time before consuming it) you would not have grounds to claim compensation from the vendor.
Similarly, if you become sick after eating something but you can’t prove that what you ate was somehow contaminated, you will not have grounds to bring a claim for compensation.
Even if you are sure that you contracted a food borne illness from a restaurant or shop, it may not always be worthwhile to make a claim. For example if you are sick for a 24 to 48 hour period, it is unlikely you will incur significant medical costs or lost wages. In this case, the cost of making a claim would likely exceed the amount you would recover.
However, even if you do not make a claim, you should report any incidence of food poisoning to the relevant local authorities.
If you are aware of an incidence of food contamination or food poisoning, a product labelling issue or other food safety or hygiene issue at a retail business or a distributing or manufacturing premises you can report it by calling 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84).
To report concerns regarding the storage, transportation or handling of dairy, seafood, raw meat, small goods or the processing of eggs, you can contact Safe Food Production Queensland on 1800 300 815.
If you suspect that you may have become ill from eating contaminated food, you should:
You can minimise your chances of getting food poisoning by being alert to the appearance of the food you buy and eat:
Nanna’s and Creative Gourmet frozen berries which are distributed by Patties Food were recalled after suspicions they were contamination with the Hepatitis A virus.
Hepatitis A is a viral disease that affects the liver. Symptoms which can appear anywhere between 15 and 50 days after exposure, include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and discomfort, loss of appetite and low-grade fever. Hepatitis A is usually contracted by consuming food or water which is contaminated with faeces of a Hepatitis infected person and is especially common in developing countries with poor hygiene practices.
Within a short window, nine people presented with hepatitis A, none of whom had recently travelled overseas nor eaten at any of the same locations. Doctors identified a link between the consumption of the frozen berries and the Hepatitis A cases.
Investigations revealed that the berries used in the Nanna’s and Creative Gourmet products were washed, handled and sealed in packets in China, a likely source of the contamination. Patties Food withdrew from shelves and issued a recall of the relevant products.
40 people presented at Sydney hospitals with salmonella after consuming contaminated food from the Box Village Bakery. All described symptoms including vomiting, diarrhoea, sweats, headaches, fever and stomach cramps within 30 minutes to a few hours after consuming chicken and pork filled rolls from the bakery. 13 people were admitted to hospital for further treatment.
8 people in Queensland and 54 from Victoria were diagnosed with a rare strain of Salmonella after consuming leafy greens sourced from Tripod Farmers in Victoria. The outbreak was thought to be related to a fertiliser used by Tripod Farmers to grow the lettuce, which is sourced from chickens.
The relevant products were immediately recalled and withdrawn from shelves.
44 ill patients presented at Gold Coast Hospital with salmonella poisoning after eating at the Grocer and Grind Cafe in Broadbeach. The contamination was found to have resulted from poor food handling practices for which the cafe had received warnings 3 months prior. The cafe was fined over $100,000 in penalties.
It’s important to get advice for your specific situation. Check if you can make a risk-free compensation claim and get free initial advice from our Principal lawyer, Greg Smith.
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