Posted On: May 11, 2023

Food Poisoning Law: Can You Be Sued for Undercooked Food?

Food poisoning can be a serious and unpleasant experience, causing nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and in some cases, hospitalization. In the U.S., food poisoning affects an estimated 48 million people each year, resulting in 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. 

When someone develops food poisoning at a restaurant, the question often arises: can the restaurant be held liable for the illness? More specifically, can a restaurant be sued for serving undercooked food? In this post, we will explore the legal ramifications of serving undercooked food and answer some of the most common questions about food poisoning laws.

What Is Food Poisoning? 

Food poisoning, also known as foodborne illness, is a condition caused by consuming contaminated food or beverages. The contamination can be caused by pathogens, such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, or toxins produced by these microorganisms. 

The symptoms of food poisoning can vary depending on the type of contamination and the individual affected, but they often include: 

  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhea  
  • Abdominal pain 
  • Fever 
  • Dehydration  

In some cases, food poisoning can lead to serious health complications, especially in vulnerable populations such as: 

  • Children 
  • Elderly 
  • Pregnant women 
  • People with weakened immune systems 

For this reason, it’s important for restaurant and grocery store owners to properly train all food handler staff to practice safe food handling and preparation techniques, which will go a long way in avoiding cross-contamination and preventing food poisoning. 

Food Poisoning Claims

When talking about food poisoning, the establishment that sells the food can be held responsible if they fail to exercise reasonable care in the preparation and storage of the food, or if the food product is deemed defective which would make them strictly liable. Furthermore, they may have violated a warranty in some cases.

Here are food poisoning claims affected customers can file for: 


Under the principles of general negligence, a business is obligated to exercise reasonable care. In the context of a restaurant, "reasonable care" entails maintaining a safe environment, providing safe products, and eliminating any unreasonable hazards. If a restaurant fails to fulfill its duty to customers, a negligence claim may arise. 

Strict Products Liability

To establish a case of contaminated food, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the food served by the restaurant or purchased from a store was flawed and posed an unreasonable danger. Additionally, it must be proven that the faulty and hazardous food caused the illness. 

The lack of reasonable care doesn’t need to be demonstrated, which is what distinguishes strict products liability from negligence. Every individual involved in the chain of distribution, including the manufacturer, wholesaler, retailer, and food distributor, can be held responsible for selling the contaminated food under strict products liability. 

Breach of Warranty

Per commercial laws, implied warranties are prevalent in most states. These warranties usually guarantee that a product will meet the expectations of an average buyer and comply with minimum quality standards. 

In cases where food contamination leads to food poisoning, the affected consumer may argue that the food did not meet the ordinary buyer's expectations of being free from contamination.

Just like strict products liability, an implied warranty will apply to the food throughout the chain of distribution, unless it is explicitly limited or invalidated by contract. 

Can You Sue a Grocery Store for Food Poisoning? 

Yes, food poisoning law allows customers to file a food contamination lawsuit against:  

  • Restaurants 
  • Grocery stores 
  • Food service companies 

Therefore, it is possible to sue a grocery store for food poisoning if there is evidence that the store sold contaminated food that made a customer ill. 

In general, grocery stores have a legal duty to sell safe and properly labeled food products. If a grocery store sells contaminated food that causes food poisoning, it may be held liable for any harm that results from the sale of that food. 

Can You Sue for Undercooked Food? 

Yes, it is possible to sue for undercooked food if it results in food poisoning or other harm.

Customers have the right to expect that the food served to you at a restaurant is safe to eat and properly cooked. It is the responsibility of restaurants to ensure that they do not serve contaminated food. If they fail to fulfill this duty, and it results in your illness, customers have the right to sue the restaurant for compensation.

However, the outcome of the lawsuit will depend on several factors, such as: 

  • The specific circumstances of the case 
  • The evidence that must prove the claim 
  • The laws in the specific state where the incident occurred

Customers may decide to seek the advice of a qualified attorney if they are considering filing a food contamination lawsuit.  

How to Report Food Poisoning 

If a customer suspects they have food poisoning, they must report it to the appropriate authorities so that they can investigate and take appropriate action to prevent others from getting sick.

Here are the steps a customer may follow to report food poisoning:

    1. Contact with Healthcare Provider 

If a customer is experiencing severe symptoms, they should seek medical attention immediately. Their doctor can diagnose the type of illness or bacteria and provide treatment as needed. They can also report your illness to public health authorities.

    1. Contact the Local Health Department 

If there is suspicion that the illness is due to food poisoning from a restaurant, grocery store, or other food establishment, the local health department should be contacted. They will investigate your complaint and take necessary actions to prevent others from getting sick.

    1. Collect Evidence Surrounding the Food Poisoning

For a customer to succeed in their case, they would need to prove that the food purchased was contaminated and that the contamination caused their illness. They would also need to show that the grocery store breached its duty of care by selling contaminated food and that this breach was the direct cause of their illness. 

Additionally, food poisoning cases can be reported to: 

This will help public health officials track outbreaks and prevent others from getting sick. 

Remember, food poisoning laws can be complex and may vary depending on the state you live in. Therefore, customers typically consult with a personal injury attorney who specializes in food poisoning cases to help them navigate the legal process and pursue the compensation they seek. 

Compensation for Food Poisoning

If someone has suffered from food poisoning, they may be entitled to compensation for the damages. The compensation can cover various expenses and losses, including:

  • Medical expenses
  • Lost income
  • Pain and suffering
  • Other expenses

In rare and severe instances, food poisoning can result in death. The family members of the deceased may have the option to initiate a wrongful death lawsuit against the responsible business. 

To seek compensation, the customer will need to file a food contamination lawsuit against the responsible party, such as the restaurant, food manufacturer, or grocery store and  prove that the party was negligent in their duty of care and that their actions caused the illness.

How to Prevent Food Poisoning 

To prevent food poisoning and cross-contamination lawsuits, restaurant and grocery store owners should provide food handlers training to all staff, including new hires. This will help you and your employees understand the risks of food poisoning and how it can be prevented.

With the safe food handling practices and preparation techniques your employees learn from the training, the spread of harmful bacteria and viruses that cause food poisoning can be avoided. This, in turn, helps protect the health and safety of customers, employees, and the public.

By educating and training staff, restaurant and grocery store owners can: 

  • Build a reputation for quality and safety 
  • Reduce the risk of legal liability 
  • Prevent outbreaks and reduce associated costs

Additionally, training staff can ensure food compliance with the regulations and laws set forth by many states, which require restaurants and grocery stores to follow specific food handling practices to prevent food contamination

Failing to provide training and stay compliant with regulations can cost your company. However, we understand that workforce training can be a headache for any business in the food industry. That’s why it's critical to have an efficient training program like ours to protect your organization from risk and liability. 

Minimize the risk of food poisoning and ensure the safety of both your customers and employees with our Food and Beverage training solutions, which will supply your staff with the certifications and knowledge they require. Whether you own a restaurant, bar, convenience store, grocery store, or hotel, we can help you employ better tools for onboarding and recertifying your employees. Get started today!

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