What to do if a foreign object shows up in your food - KSLA News 12 Shreveport, Louisiana News Weather & Sports


Foreign objects in your food

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. 

Additional Information

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).

  • A company may offer coupons or free products. Sometimes, restaurants will discount or comp a meal.
  • Unless you have been injured in some way (i.e. experienced damages), you may not have a case even though your food was contaminated.
  • Damages include medical bills, pain and suffering, and lost wages.
  • Proving emotional distress isn't easy, but if you have been so traumatized that you can't sleep or eat, consult with an attorney.
  • Making a false claim about something in your food can lead to a lawsuit. Many state laws protect suppliers, manufacturers and restaurants from false claims. Damages include lost sales, customers and reputation.

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/).

  • You can contact the restaurant or food manufacturer and demand a refund.
  • Take pictures and keep the object. If you send it to them, you won't have any evidence.

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).

  • For help with meat, poultry and processed egg products, call the toll-free USDA Hotline 1-888-MPHotline or report it on the USDA website.
  • For help with restaurant food, call the Health Department in your city, county or state.
  • For help with non-meat foods (cereals, produce, cheese, etc.), call or write the Food and Drug Administration.
  • In order for the USDA to investigate a problem with meat, poultry or eggs, you must have the original packaging, any foreign object you've discovered and any uneaten portion of the food (be sure to refrigerate or freeze it).
  • Be ready to provide your contact information, the brand/product name, the name of the manufacturer, the size and package type, the can/package code, the Establishment number, the name/location of the store and the date you purchased it.
  • If you are ill, see a physician.

The following information is from a legal blog answering frequently asked questions about food contamination (Source: http://www.raglandjones.com/lawyer-attorney-1802466.html).

  • In one study, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration found that approximately one-quarter of all food-related complaints it received one year involved the presence of a visible foreign contaminant. This same study indicated that nearly 15% of the complainants had reportedly suffered an injury or illness which they attributed to the foreign material.
  • Hard or sharp foreign objects can cause laceration, puncture or other physical injury to someone's teeth, jaw, tongue, perioral tissue, pharynx or esophagus.
  • In rare cases, the foreign material cannot be passed and surgical intervention is required.
  • Chocking is a major concern as the risk remains even after the object is swallowed because ingestion can lead to vomiting and chocking.
  • Foreign objects can be a source of pathogenic bacteria such as E. coli, salmonella, campylobacter, shigella or norovirus which can cause food borne illness.
  • Claims against the manufacturer or seller can be based on various theories of liability including common law negligence, breach of implied warranty of merchantability and strict products liability.
  • Intentional adulteration of food may allow the victim to claim for battery and/or intentional infliction of emotional distress.
  • Consumers may be able to recover damages for medical expenses, loss of income and pain and suffering.
  • First, immediately alert your server. Do not remove the object, but keep all the evidence. Request the object be shown to a manager and that written reports be prepared. Keep all the evidence.
  • Get medical care if you swallowed an object, sustain injury or contract food poisoning. With food poisoning, request that a stool sample be taken and tested to identify the pathogen.
  • Document the proof of purchase with an invoice, receipt or credit card record.
  • Secure the evidence including the foreign material not ingested and all packaging materials which contained the food. Freeze or refrigerate what is perishable.
  • Take photos of the object, all the packaging, the receipt and all other physical evidence as soon as possible. Photograph any injuries as well.
  • As soon as possible, notify the company or restaurant about the incident and be ready with complete information about the food, location and date of purchase and injuries suffered.
  • If the food came from a restaurant, bakery or catering company file a complaint with the local health department ASAP.
  • Contact an attorney to discuss whether you have viable claims against the company. Do not sign any paper or give a written/recorded statement until you have consulted an attorney.

 The following information is from the New Hanover County (NC) Health Department:

  • If a consumer purchases the food or drink from a restaurant or facility where final preparation or processing occurs, they should immediately involve the local 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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