​How Hard is it to Prove Food Poisoning?

​How Hard is it to Prove Food Poisoning?

​How Hard is it to Prove Food Poisoning
​How Hard is it to Prove Food Poisoning?

When you buy food at a grocery store or a restaurant, you expect it to be fresh. You don’t expect it to make you sick. However, Salmonella, Campylobacter, E. coli, and other types of food poisoning happen quite often.

If you go to the hospital for food poisoning, the hospital reports it to the state, which then reports it to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The CDC keeps a national database to track food poisoning cases.

You can recover compensation for food poisoning if you know what caused it. Always save the packaging if you think something you eat makes you sick. If you ate at a restaurant, keep notes of what you ate and drank for the meal. Often, the food item that causes illness is not obvious, so it’s important to consider exposures for the two weeks before the onset of your illness. 

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Types of Food Poisoning

The most common causes of food poisoning are bacteria and viruses. You can prevent many of these from contaminating your food by keeping different types of food separated, keeping food at the proper temperature, washing your hands before and after handling food, and cooking food to the correct internal temperature.

In some cases, the bacteria or virus might be in the food when you first purchase it. In most cases, you don’t even know it’s there—the food looks and smells fine. It is in these cases that you might recover compensation for illnesses or death related to food poisoning.

Bacteria and viruses that cause food poisoning include:


You might find Salmonella in many types of food, including but not limited to vegetables, pork, chicken, nuts, fruits, eggs, sprouts, and beef. Salmonella could take from six hours to six days to incubate within the body before causing illness. It comes from animals and the animals’ environments—mostly from lizards, turtles, snakes, frogs, baby chicks, birds, and pet food, including pet treats.

The symptoms of Salmonella include fever, diarrhea, stomach cramps, and vomiting. Doctors can treat severe cases of Salmonella with antibiotics. The illness generally lasts from four to seven days. Complications from Salmonella infections can last much longer. 


You’ll find Listeria in unpasteurized milk and dairy; feta, queso fresco, Camembert, Brie, and other soft cheese made from unpasteurized milk; raw fruit; raw vegetables—most commonly sprouts; hot dogs; ready-to-eat deli meat; meat spreads; refrigerated pate; and refrigerated smoked seafood.

Listeria takes anywhere from one to four weeks to incubate—and the time could be as long as 70 days. It causes fever and diarrhea, though according to FoodSafety.gov, doctors rarely diagnose these mild Listeria infections. However, if you have invasive listeriosis, which means that the bacteria spread outside the gut, you might see symptoms of fever, muscle aches, fatigue, stiff neck, loss of balance, confusion, and convulsions, which can be signs of Listeria meningitis. 

If you contract Listeria food poisoning, it could last from days to weeks. If doctors find that you have invasive listeriosis, they can treat it with antibiotics. Listeriosis can affect unborn babies, causing pre-term birth or birth defects. 

E. coli

You’ll find E. coli in raw unpasteurized milk and juice, undercooked ground beef, raw fruit, raw vegetables (most notably, lettuce and sprouts), and cheese made from raw milk. You can also contract E. coli from drinking or swimming in contaminated water. Animals can spread E. coli, as well as the feces of infected people.

It takes about three to four days for E. coli to incubate, but it could take as little as a day and up to 10 days. The symptoms of E. coli include diarrhea, bloody diarrhea, vomiting, and severe stomach pain. Some people may have a fever, but it is not overly common.

E. coli could also cause hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which has symptoms of decreased urine production, losing the pink color in your lower eyelids, and having tea-colored or dark urine. HUS is a serious medical emergency that can cause long-term kidney impairment or death. 

The illness could last up to 10 days, but most people feel better in five to seven days.


Cyclospora is a protozoan parasite that is most often found in contaminated produce or water, often, but not always, in regions with a warm climate. This infection is not typically transmitted person-to-person within the home, because the organism must sporulate over a period of days before becoming infectious. 

Cyclospora is a common cause of traveler’s diarrhea, but cases acquired domestically within the United States are typically foodborne. The incubation period is longer–up to 14 days.

Symptoms of Cyclospora infections include profuse watery diarrhea, low-grade fever, fatigue, abdominal pain, body aches, headache, and sometimes belching. Often, symptoms do not resolve without antibiotic treatment and can persist for weeks. A special stool test is used to diagnose this infection. 


Botulism from honey, improperly canned foods, herb-infused oils, cheese sauce, baked potatoes in aluminum foil, and bottled garlic.

The incubation period ranges from three to 30 days in infants and 18 to 36 hours in adults and children.

Infants with botulism might not eat properly and have weak crying, lethargy, constipation, and poor muscle tone. Symptoms in children and adults include blurred and/or double vision, slurred speech, drooping eyelids, dry mouth, difficulty swallowing, and muscle weakness.

Botulism can make you very sick and is a medical emergency. If you suspect you or a loved one has botulism, go to the emergency room or see your doctor immediately.

Less Common Types of Food Poisoning

Some of the less common types of food poisoning include:

  • Campylobacter from chicken, turkey, shellfish, unpasteurized milk, and contaminated water.
  • Clostridium perfringens from gravy, beef, poultry, and food left for a long time in steam tables or at room temperature.
  • Hepatitis A from raw produce, undercooked shellfish, raw shellfish, contaminated water, uncooked foods, and food that has been cooked but not reheated after someone with hepatitis A contaminated it.
  • Norovirus from food contaminated with particles of feces or vomit of an infected person, shellfish, produce, and ready-to-eat food touched by someone infected with norovirus.
  • Shigella from contamination of food and water. The food usually becomes contaminated by someone with the virus.
  • Staphylococcus aureus is from people who carry the bacteria on their skin and don’t wash their hands before handling food. Staph is common in foods such as puddings, sliced meats, pastries, and sandwiches.
  • Vibrio from undercooked or raw shellfish, especially oysters. Some species of Vibrio can cause a skin infection if salt water or brackish water gets into an open wound.

Can Food Poisoning Kill You?

According to the Cleveland Clinic, food poisoning is common. About 48 million people per year contract some form of food poisoning and about 3,000 people die.

You are more susceptible to food poisoning, severe symptoms of food poisoning and death if you are pregnant, have a chronic illness such as immunodeficiency and autoimmune diseases, if a child is under five years of age, if you are over 65 years of age, or if you are on certain medications, such as immunosuppressants and corticosteroids.

Is it Easy to Sue for Food Poisoning?

Not without a food poisoning lawyer.

If you can show that you ate something that the CDC recalled for Salmonella, Listeria, or another form of food poisoning, it is a little easier. If you suspect you have food poisoning, always ask your doctor to take a stool sample and send it to the lab for analysis. In some cases, your doctor may find the bacteria and viruses that cause food poisoning in your blood.

While you don’t have to prove negligence of the manufacturer or distributor of the food, you do have to show a link between your illness and contaminated food. This is why you need medical attention anytime you suspect food poisoning—the doctor reports the type of food poisoning your stool sample shows to the state, which then reports it to the CDC. If the CDC finds several cases, regulatory agencies like FDA or USDA may issue a recall on the food.

Food Poisoning and Long-Term or Permanent Disabilities

Most people believe that food poisoning lasts a few days and it’s gone. However, some people could suffer long-term or permanent disabilities from certain types of food poisoning.

Salmonella and Campylobacter can cause reactive arthritis, which affects the joints in the lower extremities, including the feet. While reactive arthritis rarely lasts longer than six months, it could become chronic arthritis or recur. Campylobacter also causes Guillian-Barré syndrome in some people. Finally, Campylobacter could also cause blood and heart infections.

In some cases, people might develop irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) after a bout with food poisoning. IBS symptoms include constipation, diarrhea, and bloating. 

E. coli could cause children to develop hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Adults and children could develop HUS, end-stage kidney disease, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and kidney problems.

Listeria could cause seizures, impairments to speaking and eyesight, cause difficulty swallowing, and cause paralysis. If you are pregnant, it could cause miscarriage, stillbirth, or premature birth. If listeriosis is severe enough, it could cause partial or total impairment and prevent you from working for the rest of your life.

Recovering Damages for Food Poisoning

You could recover damages if you ate food contaminated by the manufacturer or a distributor. In some cases, you could recover compensation from a restaurant that served contaminated food if you show that the restaurant improperly handled food. Additionally, if you lost a loved one because of food poisoning, you could recover compensation. While the money will not bring your loved one back, it can significantly reduce the financial stress of losing the income your loved one brought in.

Depending on the severity of your illness and whether it causes long-term or permanent damages or the death of a loved one, you could recover compensatory damages in the form of economic damages or non-economic damages.

Economic Damages

Most people recover economic damages, which have a monetary value and include:

Medical Expenses

You could recover compensation for your medical expenses, including:

  • Doctor’s appointments.
  • Surgeries and follow-up appointments.
  • Prescriptions and prescribed over-the-counter medications.

If a foodborne illness causes long-term or permanent disabilities, you could recover the above plus hand controls for your vehicle and changes to your home, including but not limited to wheelchair ramps, widened doorways, grab bars, and handrails.

Some people may even require compensation for various therapies, including psychological therapy, occupational therapy, cognitive therapy, and physical therapy. Finally, if you need life-long care in a nursing home or rehab center or need a home health aid, you could recover compensation for those expenses.


If a foodborne illness caused you to miss work, you could recover compensation for the days you missed. Additionally, those who are not able to work again could recover compensation for future loss of earning capacity.

If a foodborne illness caused the death of a loved one, you could recover funeral and burial expenses, cremation expenses, certain probate court expenses, and/or probate attorney’s fees and costs.

Non-Economic Damages

Those who suffer long-term or permanent disabilities or lose a loved one to a foodborne illness could recover non-economic damages, which do not have a monetary value.

Non-economic damages include:

  • Pain and suffering, including emotional distress.
  • Loss of quality of life if you have to make life-long changes such as taking prescriptions or using ambulatory aids.
  • Loss of companionship if you can no longer enjoy time with your family or attend family activities and events.
  • Loss of consortium if you can no longer have a physical relationship with your spouse.
  • Loss of use of a bodily function, such as your eyesight.
  • Loss of use of a body part, such as a foot or hand.
  • Inconvenience if you have to hire someone to do the chores you normally do, including but not limited to grocery shopping, lawn maintenance, house cleaning, and home repair and maintenance.
  • Amputation of a digit or limb should it become gangrenous because of complications related to a foodborne illness.

Paying for a Product Liability Lawyer

Russell Nicolet
Russell Nicolet, Food Poisoning Lawyer

In some cases, people do not retain an attorney to help them with food poisoning cases as they believe they cannot afford the lawyer. A product liability lawyer’s initial case evaluation is free and without obligation. Should you decide to retain the attorney, you pay only if you win your case.

If you suffered damages or lost a loved one because of a foodborne illness, contact a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible for your free case evaluation.