In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a warning to consumers against consuming chia-seed powder due to the 21 cases of salmonella across 12 different states in the country from consuming the powder. Two people faced hospitalization from severe cases of salmonella in what could become a huge product liability case. Some of the states where salmonella cases saw a rise in 2014 were New York, Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin, and more. At the same time, there were about 34 cases of salmonella contracted from the consumption of chia-seed powder in Canada.
As a member of Ehline Law, we are responsible for educating the masses on legal issues and their rights. This article will explore the hype around chia seeds, the story surrounding the 2014 chia seed powder recall, some food poisoning lawsuits, and what to do if you’re experiencing a serious case of food poisoning.
Chia seeds are edible seeds derived from a plant native to Mexico. Since the ancient Aztecs, people have used chia seeds for medicinal purposes; however, they are now consumed as a nutrient-dense superfood.
Chia seeds contain powerful antioxidants that have many health benefits. The human body contains free radicals that cause oxidative stress and damage human cells. Consuming foods rich in antioxidants, such as chia seeds, can help eliminate free radicals and reduce the risk of diseases arising from free radicals, including heart conditions, cognitive decline, and more.
Chia seeds have high fiber content (39% of your daily fiber needs) that helps improve blood sugar levels and minimize the risk of type 2 diabetes. It can even make you feel full, allowing you to eat less and maintain or reduce your weight.
Caffeine acid, present in chia seeds, aids in reducing inflammation in the body. It also contains magnesium and potassium, which ensure strong bones. 18% of your daily calcium requirement in chia seeds is enough to keep healthy muscles and nerves functioning. Chia seeds have more calcium than any dairy product when compared to the gram for gram.
Chia seeds also have a certain type of omega-three fatty acid that aids in reducing lower omega 6, which helps reduce chronic conditions like heart disease. When consuming chia seeds, it is important to look out for digestive issues and how it interacts with your medications and allergies. Although chia seeds are great for health, they are also prone to contamination, just like any food item. The most common disease from contaminated chia seeds is salmonella.
In the United States, there are more than 1.35 million cases of salmonella annually, out of which 26,500 people face hospitalization and 420 people die from it. But what is this deadly disease?
Related to the family Enterobacteriaceae, the Salmonella bacterium is an intracellular pathogen that causes illnesses upon ingestion. The majority of salmonella infections are due to food contamination from animal or human feces, such as by food service workers at commercial eatery joints.
There are two main groups of salmonella, typhoidal and nontyphoidal. Nontyphoidal serotypes are salmonella that can be transferred from an animal to a human or from one human to the other. Invasion of nontyphoidal serotypes occurs through the gastric system, causing several symptoms that, fortunately, do not require antibiotics to treat. However, in sub-Saharan Africa, nontyphoidal serotypes are invasive and can cause paratyphoid fever, requiring immediate antibiotic treatment.
Typhoidal serotypes are those types of salmonella that can be transferred only from one human to the other and can lead to foodborne diseases like typhoid and paratyphoid fever. Typhoid fever starts after the salmonella bacterium enters the bloodstream and spreads to all other organs, slowly releasing endotoxins. Complications can become life-threatening, and starting intensive treatment, including antibiotics, is crucial.
Depending on the species of salmonella contracted, there may be different kinds of symptoms. These symptoms can start six hours to six days after contracting the bacterium. However, it can take several weeks for some individuals’ symptoms to show up.
Those who have contracted salmonella bacteria may face symptoms similar to food poisonings, such as diarrhea, fever, and even severe abdominal cramps. However, some strains of the bacterium can cause serious problems after infecting an individual’s urine, blood, bones, and even the nervous system.
Doctors can help diagnose salmonella by taking an individual’s urine, blood, or fluid sample and running it through a laboratory test.
In cases involving individuals with a strong immune system, the body can take up to seven days to treat the bacteria without the need for antibiotics. Doctors recommend ingesting lots of fluids to replenish the loss of body water for as long as the diarrhea lasts.
Although antibiotics are only recommended for certain strains of salmonella, doctors may recommend antibiotics to people with severe illnesses, individuals with weak immune systems, older adults (ages 50 and above), and children younger than 12 months old.
In the majority of salmonella cases, people recover completely. However, some people may not have normal bowel habits for a few months. Another long-term problem pertaining to salmonella infections is that after a person goes through salmonella, they may have reactive arthritis. This is usually difficult to treat and can last for months or even years.
There have been many salmonella outbreaks in the United States, resulting from the consumption of raw cashew cheese, ground beef, tahini, ground turkey, peanut butter, onions, mangoes, and other foods. Here, we will explore the 2014 salmonella outbreak caused by the consumption of chia seed powder.
Chia seed powder took the United States by storm when it received a superfood status, with many young individuals and health-conscious Americans mixing it in their smoothies, cereals, and more. However, just like sprouts that are prone to bacterial contamination, chia seed powder also faces similar health risks. Food bugs can grow, live, and breed in different types of foods, including chia seed powder.
In 2014, 21 Americans reported sickness after purchasing and consuming chia seed powder. It wasn’t clear before how the sickness occurred, but after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) investigators started interviewing the sick residents, they all had one thing in common: consumption of chia seed powder. Two people were facing severe symptoms of salmonella infection and had to be admitted to a hospital for medical care.
Investigators conducted tests on chia seed powder and chia seeds to find out if both were facing similar health risks, such as possible salmonella contamination. However, their tests only resulted in sprouted chia seed powder as the main component for the growth of Salmonella bacteria.
Chia seed powder preparation includes sprouting the seeds and then crushing the sprouts into a fine powder form. However, the health risks start during the sprouting stage as the conditions required to sprout chia seeds are also ideal for growing pathogens such as salmonella.
As the cases of salmonella infection rose in the United States and Canada at the same time, chia seed powder brands decided to recall their organic sprouted chia powder to avoid further incidents. It started with Navitas Naturals recalling their product, with other brands, including Health Matters America Organic Traditions, Green Smoothie Girl, Navitas Naturals, and Williams-Sonoma, following right after.
Organic Traditions from Health Matters America not only recalled their sprouted chia seed powder but also sprouted chia and flax seed powder. On June 26th, the company further recalled additional products that contained chia seeds to prevent the outbreak.
One of the recalled brands, Green Smoothie Girl, recalled two of its products that they distributed to many stores and sold directly to consumers online. Oriya Organics recalled their Superfood Protein Medley as the mixture contained chia seeds.
Although the brands have already recalled their products, chia seed powder has a long shelf life, and some may be lying around in your kitchen cabinets. Double-check your pantry and if you still have some hiding in your kitchen, throw it away and save yourself and your family a trip to the doctor.
In May 2022, the FDA reported a salmonella outbreak in a few states, and investigations led to Jif peanut butter as the main source of it. Investigations have started at J.M. Smucker Company after five out of five infected reported consuming peanut butter, and four out of those five stated that they consumed different varieties of Jif peanut butter before they got ill, leading to a peanut butter recall.
In 2010, the FDA conducted whole-genome sequencing on an environmental sample taken from J.M. Smucker Company in Lexington. The results from that sample match the salmonella strain recently contracted by the individuals, and the epidemiologic evidence suggests that Jif brand peanut butter was the cause of it.
J.M. Smucker Company voluntarily recalled lot codes 1274425–2140425 of their peanut butter to avoid further salmonella contamination in the country. The company publicly announced their recalled products and further stated that if any consumers have already purchased peanut butter and other products with the mentioned lot codes, they should throw them out. Individuals should clean and sanitize all the surfaces and utensils that came into contact with the peanut butter.
The FDA is currently investigating the cause of the peanut butter contamination.
In October 2021, a wave of Salmonella Oranienburg infections started spreading across the United States, resulting in 1,040 illnesses across 37 states. Health officials stated that the true extent of salmonella contamination remains a mystery as the majority of people recover from the disease by resting at home and taking OTC medications for the symptoms.
The initial investigations led to a serious warning by the FDA to an import-based company for not complying with the Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP) requirements.
The company was importing fresh red onions from Chihuahua, Mexico, to the United States without conducting quality checks on imported goods from its suppliers. This warning suggested taking strict actions against such suppliers as soon as possible to prevent further issues or face serious action from the FDA.
Since then, the company has recalled its red and yellow onions. The CDC notified all United States residents to throw away all onions from New Mexico or not have a label stating where the onions originated from.
The 2021 outbreak was not the first case of salmonella contamination from onions. In 2020, there were more than 869 cases and 116 hospitalizations across 47 states. This initial recall included onions sold under different brands such as Thomson Premium, TLC Thomson International, Kroger, and more.
However, there were subsequent recalls of two different products, cheese dip and salsa, as some companies used salmonella-contaminated red onions in these products.
In 2015, a large salmonella outbreak in the United States affected 907 people and killed six across 40 states. Investigators found that 63% of the patients consumed cucumbers the week before their salmonella infection. 49% of the infected were younger than 18 years old.
After tracing the cucumbers back to their origin, the investigation revealed that Andrew & Williamson fresh produce imported cucumbers from Rancho Don Juanito in Mexico. The FDA conducted a pre-inspection where it reported the equipment design of the pre-wash area, the waste management system, and the storage of packing material as the reason for the infection.
Fortunately, the suppliers followed the pre-inspection findings and improved their food safety standards and systems. They even stopped October’s harvest of cucumbers to avoid outbreaks.
Yes, you can file a salmonella lawsuit as it falls under product liability claims, a claim where you unknowingly purchase a defective product that causes you harm. In a food poisoning case, the defective product is the contaminated food, and the damage or injuries sustained is food poisoning.
However, it is important to understand the difference between minor and major injuries. It is not worth pursuing a food poisoning case if the victim has minor and common food poisoning symptoms such as diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. This is because the damages suffered aren’t severe enough to warrant the cost of hiring an attorney.
Suppose the victim suffers from serious complications as a result of contaminated food and requires hospitalization. In that case, the damages are severe, and it is important that they pursue a food poisoning lawsuit against the negligent party.
There are three different legal theories in the case of defective products, and these include the following.
This type of product liability relieves the sick person from proving that the manufacturer or distributor did not take adequate measures to ensure the product was fit for consumption. You must prove that the food product you consumed had traces of contamination that led to the cause of your illness.
You can hold the manufacturer or distributor responsible for acting negligently, resulting in contaminated food that led to your sickness. However, to prove negligence, you must show that the defendants failed to exercise reasonable care when making or supplying the contaminated food items, resulting in your sickness.
For example, suppose a supplier recalled onions, and the supermarket was aware that those particular onions had traces of salmonella contamination but still sold them. In that case, you may have a negligence case.
Some states have minimum standards for products, and selling contaminated products is a breach of those warranties. The contaminated product might even violate some of the express guarantees made by the company, for example, the “triple washed” label on a fruit pack.
In 2014, after having a Mahi Mahi for dinner at The Cheesecake Factory at Bayshore Town Center, Ghassan Batayneh felt a bit dizzy. Batayneh passed out and fell from his chair onto the floor, alarming the restaurant management to call for emergency services.
Paramedics arrived and took Batayneh to the emergency room at a nearby hospital for medical examination. Tests revealed that Batayneh had scombroid poisoning, which occurs when one eats fish that are not properly refrigerated and starting to rot. Scombroid poisoning is a type of foodborne illness where cooking food at high temperatures does not kill the deadly bacterium.
Batayneh filed a lawsuit against the company, which initially declined liability but later settled the lawsuit for $14,000. Since then, the company has removed Mahi Mahi from its menu to prevent any further cases of scombroid poisoning.
In Connecticut, a dozen office workers had lunch prepared by a local well-known restaurant. After a day, all the workers became violently ill, showing severe symptoms of food poisoning. Since all 12 office workers became ill, they started to believe that the local restaurant was not maintaining minimum standards and therefore sued the restaurant.
Lawyers held the caterer responsible for the illnesses that sickened 12 office workers, and the court ordered the restaurant to pay $370,000 in settlements. That’s more than $30,000 per worker!
A Michigan man consumed food containing traces of E. coli, a bacterium of Escherichia commonly found in the lower intestines. After ingesting contaminated food, the victim became seriously ill and required hospitalization.
The victim had severe symptoms of E. coli, which resulted in renal failure and severe hypotension. The victim almost lost their life due to the infection and complications from contaminated food. After several days of hospitalization, the victim’s health stabilized, but the illness left him with long-term bodily issues.
Traumatized by the ordeal, the Michigan man sued and received $650,000 in compensation.
In 1988, Kilpatrick was staying at a Holiday Inn when he decided to order room service. He placed an order for raw oysters, a delicacy in San Francisco. After consuming the raw Louisiana shellfish, Kilpatrick started displaying symptoms of food poisoning, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. However, things started to look bad for him as an infection appeared on his leg, eating away at his skin, muscle tissue, and tendon.
Diagnosed with vibrio cholera infection, Kilpatrick was immediately admitted to a hospital where he developed bone marrow infections and fractures. During his recovery, Kilpatrick had lost the will to live. Depressed, he tried to end his life twice but failed. After spending $80,000 in hospital fees, doctors discharged Kilpatrick with a wooden cane to assist him with walking.
Kilpatrick decided to sue the responsible parties and, in the end, received a million-dollar out-of-court settlement from five companies. The lawsuit also shed light on the food laws in California, bringing important changes to reduce the risk of food poisoning in the state.
Unlike many personal injury cases, food poisoning lawsuits are difficult to win as there are two main arguments the defendants like to use, and these are:
One of the most difficult aspects of a food poisoning case is proving that the defendant’s actions were the main reason for the plaintiff’s injuries. This is because food poisoning symptoms start to show up after hours, or even days, after digesting the contaminated food. This makes it challenging to prove that the defendant’s food caused the illness and not some other food consumed during that intermediate period.
The food poisoning victim can prove that the defendant’s food caused the illness by getting their stool tested for microbes. If the result matches with those found in the contaminated food, it can strengthen your food poisoning case and improve your chances of securing compensation.
Before deciding to pursue a lawsuit for your food poisoning, it is important to speak to an attorney to identify potential damage and the possibility of a lawsuit.
The two types of compensatory damages you can claim after food poisoning are:
In rare cases, the court may also award punitive damages.
Economic damages are those types of damages that have a dollar value attached to them. These may include current medical bills, future medical expenses, prescription medication, hospitalization costs, lost wages, and more.
The economic damage depends on the circumstances the victim is in. For example, if a victim becomes permanently disabled, they might also be able to recover lost earning capacity damage from the defendant.
These types of damages are more difficult to calculate since there is no dollar value attached to them. Non-economic damage may include pain and suffering, loss of life enjoyment, emotional distress, disfigurement, and more.
If a spouse or family member loses someone to food poisoning, they can also claim loss of companionship and other types of damages in their wrongful death claims.
The court also awards punitive damages as a means to punish the defendant for carrying out reckless or negligent acts in the future that could potentially harm more citizens. Under California Civil Code 3294, the court can award punitive damages if the plaintiff proves that the defendant acted with malice or fraud.
Let’s look at an example of punitive damage. In 2021, Travis Knorr suffered from severe food poisoning after consuming contaminated sprouts in a Jimmy John’s sandwich. Knorr tested positive for E. coli and soon developed a C. difficile infection, requiring him to undergo a fecal transplant.
This incident was one of the 80 outbreaks of food poisoning from Jimmy John’s sandwiches, with the first one dating back to 1973. The judge granted Knorr’s request to seek punitive damages as the establishment failed to take contaminated sprouts off the menu, did not communicate the risks to their customers, and failed to provide their staff with adequate resources to prevent cross-contamination.
Whether you’re eating at a restaurant or buying groceries from a supermarket, you can fall victim to food poisoning. If you get sick after eating food, it is important to see a doctor. Although most foodborne illnesses result in minor symptoms, some can be really deadly, resulting in serious complications and even death.
Your doctor will conduct a few tests to determine the source of the illness. By identifying the type of bacteria present in stool, blood, or urine, doctors can help you trace the source of the disease and prevent others from getting it.
You must also report the illness to your local health department. There may be a possibility of contamination in other food items, and it is important to notify the relevant food authorities to investigate and1 prevent a potential outbreak.
If your case of food poisoning is severe and you require hospitalization, it is important to keep as much evidence as possible to strengthen your lawsuit.
Some of this evidence includes:
If you’ve gotten sick from eating at a restaurant and report it to them, the restaurant might offer you a refund or a free meal next time you visit them.
However, don’t let their politeness fool you, as they’re only offering you help to get you to sign a waiver that would prevent them from getting into legal trouble. They might even offer you a refund, a free meal, or even a gift card on the condition that you sign a waiver.
Before you sign away your legal rights, it is important to speak to an experienced food poisoning attorney about your rights and potential damage.
Restaurants serving raw or undercooked food must have risk warnings on their menu to notify their consumers of the potential risks of consuming such food items.
The California Retail Food Code requires a restaurant to advise consumers on consuming the following raw or undercooked:
Establishments can only serve raw foods on two conditions, and these are:
That said, it is also crucial to understand that just because a restaurant menu mentions the fact that the food is raw or undercooked doesn’t mean that these restaurants are immune to lawsuits. If an injured victim can prove that there was employee negligence when preparing, handling, or serving food that resulted in food poisoning, they may have a claim.
Let’s look at an example. John goes to a continental restaurant and orders raw oysters, steak, Caesar salad, and a cocktail. The restaurant’s menu has a clear warning that raw foods can cause foodborne illnesses. After 24 hours of consuming the meal, John starts to develop symptoms of food poisoning.
A day passes, and the symptoms of food poisoning become severe, requiring John to seek immediate medical help. Due to hospitalization, John misses three days of work and racks up a hefty medical bill. Although the menu mentions the warning risk, the foodborne illness could be from cross-contamination or poor hygiene rather than the consumption of raw food.
John gets his medical report that states the bacteria spreading through his body is mostly present in fecal matter, suggesting that John suffered from food poisoning not because of consuming raw food but due to poor hygiene. In such situations, John can pursue legal action against the restaurant for its negligent actions.
If you have suffered a serious case of food poisoning and are looking for a trusted attorney for legal representation in California, contact us at +(833) LETS-SUE for a free consultation.
Michael Ehline is an inactive U.S. Marine and world famous legal historian. Michael helped draft the Cruise Ship Safety Act and has won some of the largest motorcycle accident settlements in U.S. History. Together with his legal team, Michael and the Ehline Law Firm collect damages on behalf of clients. We pride ourselves in being available to answer your most pressing and difficult questions 24/7. We are proud sponsors of the Paul Ehline Memorial Motorcycle Ride, and a a Service Disabled Veteran Operated Business. (SDVOB.) We are ready to fight.
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