From finger tips and teeth to sharp pieces of metal and plastic, all of these items have been found in someone's food.
While a slimy hair in your lunch may give you a sick stomach, some foreign objects found in food products have led to choking, food poisoning, punctured organs and even major surgery.
John Manley had to be treated at his local hospital after a plastic spoon became lodged in one of his lungs.
"I didn't chow down on a spoon; it must have been in the food or drink," Manley remembers.
Amy Stewart found an unidentifiable object inside ice cream she was eating.
"It was this long piece," Stewart recalls.
Stewart also found a wadded-up paper towel.
"I was nauseous and I kind of freaked out about it," Stewart says.
If you discovered a foreign object in something you were eating, would you know what to do?
Experts recommend the first thing you should do is notify your server or the food manufacturer so a report can be filed, but keep all the evidence. This includes the foreign object, packaging and receipt. You should keep whatever food is left over in your refrigerator or freezer. It may be needed to test for pathogens or as evidence if the matter goes to court.
If you get sick or are hurt, seek medical attention immediately.
Be sure to photograph any injuries, and keep a good record of your medical bills.
Often times, people wonder if they should hire a lawyer.
Ken Haigler is a personal injury attorney with Taft, Taft & Haigler Personal Injury Law.
The biggest mistake most people make, he says, is waiting to determine if they actually need a lawyer.
"The best advice is to come see a personal injury attorney as soon as you are medically able to do that," Haigler recommends.
Talking to a lawyer does not guarantee you a case or a stack of cash from the food company, but they can tell you your rights in your state if you were injured through no fault of your own.
You may have a case if you can prove your damages like medical expenses or lost wages.
"The real gray area, is 'pain and suffering,'" Haigler points out.
Eating contaminated food can be a traumatic experience for a victim.
Haigler says the best way to prove this is through testimony, a medical diagnosis, showing evidence of the object, or expenses incurred from psychiatric care.
Most of these cases end up with the victim getting a refund or coupons for additional product. Unfortunately, the victim is also left with an experience they will not likely forget.
Whether it becomes a legal matter, or you just get a little queasy, it's best to never ignore anything foreign you find in your food.
You can also contact the Food and Drug Administration if the problem involved packaged food, or the USDA for contamination involving meat, poultry and eggs.
Just as there are laws to protect consumers, there are also laws to protect food companies and manufacturers.
If an unscrupulous person is tempted to file a false claim, beware the company could file a lawsuit against you for lost sales and customers, as well as for tarnishing their reputation.
Amy Stewart claims she found a paper towel inside a new container of ice cream. She immediately contacted the manufacturer, but did not hear back from them for several weeks. When she did get a response, they asked her to send back the container and offered to send her some coupons. Amy says she was more upset with the lack of response than actually finding the object.
Ken Haigler is a personal injury attorney with the law firm Taft, Taft & Haigler located in Wilmington, NC. (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Taft-Taft-Haigler/119547639767). He says attorneys see a lot of product liability cases. Customers need to exercise 'reasonable care' in most cases. In other words, if they find a foreign object in a food item, they should not continue eating it. In these cases, state laws can vary and that's why Haigler says it's important to contact an attorney in your area. He says it's a misconception that people sue for foreign objects found in their food. In reality, most of these cases are settled out of court between the plaintiff's attorney and the company's insurer. Some states deal with 'contributory negligence,' where individuals are not entitled to recover damages if they are even slightly at fault. Some states will also allow you to recover attorney's fees in these cases. Haigler says the severity of an injury is not the most critical issue, rather, that there is an injury. Be prepared to bring in the evidence whether it was after you digested it or after it was surgically removed. As for when you should notify the company, Haigler says it's best to allow an attorney to take over the communication reigns.
The following tips are from a legal website which offers tips for dealing with the discovery of foreign objects in food (Source: http://product-liability.lawyers.com/Product-Liability/You-Found-a-What-in-Your-Food.html).
The following article explains why consumers should photograph any foreign object found in their food as a means of documenting you case (Source: http://www.findgreatlawyers.com/blog/2010/10/foreign-objects-in-food-%E2%80%93-not-usually-a-lawsuit/).
The following information is from the USDA regarding how to handle contaminated food (Source: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/fsis_Recalls/problems_with_food_products/index.asp).
The following information is from a legal blog answering frequently asked questions about food contamination (Source: http://www.raglandjones.com/lawyer-attorney-1802466.html).
The following information is from the New Hanover County (NC) Health Department:
This link contains various phone numbers for agencies that deal with food contamination issues: http://www.foodsafety.gov/report/problem/index.html.
Click here for information about contaminated canned, packaged food and produce.
Click here for information about contaminated meat, poultry and eggs.
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