Product Liability

You Found a What in Your Food?!

Many of us read food labels to what's in the food we're buying and eating. Two recent incidents show how sometimes we find something unexpected in our food.

Of Teeth and Glass

As Sue Calhoun drove from Brownsboro to Dallas, Texas on New Year's Day 2010, she enjoyed a candy bar and a Coke, which is (or at least was) her usual drive-time snack. On the second bite of her Milky Way candy bar she knew something was wrong when she hit something hard.

At first she thought it was a peanut - wishful thinking, perhaps, as Milky Ways don't have peanuts. No, in fact it was tooth. And, although it hasn't been confirmed as of yet, it most likely was a human tooth because it had a silver filling. Mars, the candy bar's maker, is investigating the matter.

The investigation continues, too, for some patients at several Kaiser Permanente hospitals in California who found more than chicken and noodles in their chicken-noodle soup - and it wasn't a fly, either. It was glass fragments.

According to the soup supplier, FoodService Partners, Inc., a cook broke a glass container while preparing a batch of soup. Company policy requires such an incident to be reported and the contaminated food disposed of. The cook didn't do that, but rather cleaned the pot and resumed cooking. The California Department of Public Health is investigating still.

What To Do

With the millions of tons of food that's prepared, canned, wrapped, jarred, or otherwise processed by humans or machines in the US and around the world, you have to expect some mishaps. Try as they might, food manufacturers and suppliers simply can't catch everything all the time. Knowing that doesn't necessarily make you feel any better when you find something like a tooth or glass in your food, though.

Needless to say, it can be a horrifying, traumatic experience to eat something like that. So what do you do? Sue Calhoun, Kaiser, and FoodService got it right. They let someone know about it immediately. Calhoun called Mars, and they started an investigation and requested she send the candy and the tooth to the company.

Kaiser notified thousands of patients who ordered the soup, and FoodService contacted its other customers who received the soup and suspended the cook for retraining.

When something like this happens to a consumer like you and me, the typical response is for the manufacturer or supplier to try to make things right. As with Calhoun, a company may offer coupons or free products to the consumer. A diner at a restaurant may get her meal at a discount or for free.

Sometimes, though, that's not enough. Although according to Kaiser no patients were injured by the glass, eating glass or other foreign objects can cause serious physical injuries. Biting into something hard and unexpected - like a tooth - can cause teeth problems for the chewer, even though Calhoun reported none.

If you've bitten into or eaten something that's not supposed to be in your food, you can talk to an attorney about what happened. Don't be surprised if she says you don't have a case, though. Unless you've been injured in some way - or have "damages" in legal speak - you don't have a case, even though your food was in fact contaminated. Medical bills, pain and suffering, and lost wages are good examples of damages.

Of course, if you've been harmed emotionally you may have a case, too. Proving emotional distress isn't easy, though. But if you've been so traumatized that you can't sleep or eat, for instance, you should talk to an attorney.

Be truthful! If you falsely claim you've found some foreign object in your food, you may be liable. Many states have laws allowing suppliers, manufacturers, and restaurants, etc., to recover damages if they've been harmed by such a false claim. Damages may be lost sales or customers or a damaged reputation, any of which could cost you thousands of dollars or more.

We all expect and deserve to trust the food and beverages we eat and drink. And the vast majority of the time our trust isn't misplaced. If you do find something odd, though, don't hesitate to speak up. That way the problem may be fixed before someone else gets surprised or hurt.

Questions For Your Attorney

  • Ever since I found some non-human hair in a hamburger I become nauseated whenever I see a hamburger. Do I have a good case against the hamburger company?
  • Can I still sue if I accept free goods from the company after I complained about a foreign object?
  • My one-year-old nearly choked to death on a foreign object in her food. Can we sue the manufacturer if we find out two years from now that she suffered brain damage or some other injury we don't notice right now?

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