Most of us have experienced the awful feeling known colloquially as "food poisoning." Typically marked by vomiting and diarrhea, it is often a very intense but relatively brief period of illness. However, some foodborne illnesses can be life-threatening. In this post our Panama City food safety lawyer focuses on listeria, one particularly dangerous bacteria.
Last month, Time Magazine announced that Wal-Mart had settled civil claims filed by the families of some of the 33 people who died in a 2011 listeria outbreak. The settlements also resolved claims against companies involved fruit inspection and delivery. Investigators eventually tied the outbreak to a Colorado cantaloupe and two brothers pled guilty earlier this year to related criminal misdemeanor charges.
Just one week later, another listeria story broke. As noted in a press release posted on the Food & Drug Administration website, Lansal Inc. voluntarily recalled 14,860 pounds of hummus and other dips out of concerns about possible listeria contamination. The recall followed a routine test at a Texas facility. No illness was reported at the time of the voluntary recall, which included products sold in Florida.
Listeriosis, the illness caused by consuming food contaminated with listeria monocytogenes ("listeria"), is a major public health threat according to the Centers for Disease Control. Almost all instances of listeriosis go beyond the patient's gastrointestinal tract, with symptoms including headache, muscle pain, and fever. In time, infection can cause meningitis (inflammation of membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord) and/or septicemia (potentially fatal blood infection).
Close to 90% of listeria-related illnesses occur in high-risk groups such as pregnant women, newborns, older people, and individuals with weakened immune systems. Pregnant women, who account for approximately one in seven cases of listeriosis, are at risk for miscarriage, stillbirth, or pre-term labor. Over half of listeria-related illnesses hit individuals over age 65.
General advice from the CDC for avoiding listeriosis mirrors the typical advice for avoiding foodborne illness. This includes careful food handling, proper cooking, appropriate food storage (including maintaining appropriate temperature), and thorough washing of foods and food preparation areas. Additionally, the CDC suggests everyone avoid raw/unpasteurized milk. The CDC provides additional guidance for high-risk individuals, including avoiding a number of high-risk foods such as lunch meats (aka "cold cuts"), uncooked/raw fish, and soft cheese.
Food safety is a shared responsibility. We should all take steps to avoid foodborne illness. Americans should also be able to rely on the safety of food we buy and consume. Sometimes we simply can't take additional safety steps -- no one "washes" a container of hummus and, while we can order wisely, we rely even more on a safe food supply chain when dining out.
Companies and individuals throughout the supply chain (manufacturers, shippers, farms, etc.) must take appropriate steps to keep the food supply safe and prevent foodborne illness. If you or a loved one has fallen ill due to contaminated food in Northwest Florida, call our Panama City food poisoning lawyer. If the contamination was the result of negligence (or malfeasance) in the food supply line, we can help you recover money damages.