Dangerous food products can end up in consumers’ hands, leading to widespread recalls, reports of illness and injury, and sometimes even death. Safe and reliable products are essential for consumer confidence and manufacturers have an obligation to consumers to make sure their products are safe.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (Public Health) is currently investigating an outbreak of Salmonella infections linked to some frozen corn products. This offers an opportunity to reflect on food contamination and recalls, along with the principles of product liability. Importantly, when a person is injured due to manufacturer negligence, they may be entitled to compensation for their injuries.

Current outbreak of Salmonella infections

As reported by Public Health, there is an outbreak of Salmonella infections involving five provinces, including Ontario. Based on the investigation findings to date, the outbreak is linked to Alasko brand frozen whole kernel corn. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has issued a range of food recall warnings, including secondary recalls for products that were made using the recalled corn.

As of January 21, 2022, there have been 110 confirmed cases, with individuals becoming sick between early September and late December 2021. The majority of cases have occurred in Alberta and British Columbia, but some illness has been reported in Ontario relating to travel to these other provinces. Unfortunately, four individuals have been hospitalized. 

Public Health has issued a range of recommendations, including not to eat or serve any of the recalled corn or products made with the recalled corn, cleaning all surfaces that the products may have come into contact with, and refraining from cooking food for other people if you have been diagnosed with a gastrointestinal illness. People who have symptoms, including fever, chills, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, headache, nausea or vomiting, or who have underlying medical conditions, should contact their health care provider if they suspect that they have a Salmonella infection. 

How to avoid exposure to contaminated food

It can be difficult to avoid exposure to contaminated food but there are. It takes time for the authorities to investigate and confirm the origins of outbreaks and issue food recalls. Contaminated products can be used to make new foods and when we eat at food service establishments such as restaurants, we can’t know the exact content of the food. But there are some things you can do to try to reduce the risk. 

You can check the Government of Canada’s recalls and safety alerts website, which contains the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s food recall warnings. Recalled products should be thrown out or returned to the location where they were purchased. Do not consume or distribute the product.

It is also very important to follow the handling and cooking instructions that appear on food labels and packages. Adhering to the directions and washing your hands after handling food products reduces the risk of foodborne illness.

If you think you have become sick from consuming contaminated food or a recalled product, it is critical to seek prompt medical attention. 

What is product liability?

Manufacturers and distributors are under a range of obligations that may result in liability for defective design, defective manufacturing or for failure to warn, which occurs when there is inadequate information on the product (for example, allergens not being declared). If you have suffered injury after eating contaminated food, consult our product liability lawyers for advice on whether you might have a claim for compensation. 

One potential source of liability is statute law. The Sale of Goods Act 1990 provides, in certain circumstances, implied warranties that goods will be fit for a particular purpose and that goods bought by description will be of merchantable quality. If these are breached, it is possible that liability for damages may arise.

Liability may also arise under the principles of negligence.

Duty of care in a food context

In the seminal common law negligence case of Donoghue v Stevenson, it was established that manufacturers have a duty of care to the ultimate end-user (consumer) of the product, not just where there is a contractual relationship between the manufacturer and consumer. Interestingly, the claim arose in the context of a decomposed snail in a bottle of ginger beer. Mrs. Donoghue consumed the offending beverage in a Scottish café and subsequently sued the ginger beer manufacturer, Mr. Stevenson. 

It may be possible to bring a claim against the manufacturer or distributor of contaminated food. In order to succeed in a negligence claim, the plaintiff needs to establish that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care, the product was defective and this caused or contributed to the injury suffered and that the injury was reasonably foreseeable. The plaintiff needs to prove these matters on the balance of probabilities. 

In order to have a successful claim, it is necessary to prove that the illness or injury was caused by a specific product. This may not be a simple thing to do as symptom onset may be delayed and multiple different foods will likely have been consumed in a short period of time. It might be easier to pinpoint the cause in the context of an outbreak where multiple people are infected and if there is a food recall. Retaining evidence such as food packaging, receipts and photographs is a good idea. Medical reports, including any pathogen test results, may also help to prove your claim. 

Contact the Personal Injury Lawyers at Tierney Stauffer LLP in Ottawa, Kingston, Cornwall, Arnprior and North Bay for Assistance with Product Liability Claims

If you have been injured by a defective product or toy, or a contaminated food product, you may be entitled to compensation for the losses you suffer, including pain and suffering, costs of medical or other care and loss of earnings. 

At Tierney Stauffer LLP, our personal injury law team will advise you of your rights and will seek to obtain the compensation necessary for your immediate and long-term needs. It is important that you seek prompt advice to achieve the maximum compensation for your product liability case. Call us at 1-888-799-8057 or reach out online to set up a free consultation with a member of our team.

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