Can I make a personal injury claim for food poisoning?

food poisoning
17 Mar 2023

Food poisoning is common in South Africa, but can you make a personal injury claim for food poisoning?

It is possible, but the process is complex. You’re only likely to be successful in specific circumstances.

In this article, we look at:

  • food poisoning in South Africa
  • the right to food safety
  • challenges in food poisoning claims
  • supporting a food poisoning claim
  • how to report food poisoning

Food poisoning cases in South Africa

The best known mass food poisoning case in South Africa is the listeriosis outbreak of 2017/8. A number of processed meat products allegedly caused 1,060 cases of listeriosis and caused 216 deaths.

This led to a class-action lawsuit against the manufacturer, Tiger Brands, which is still on-going. Claimants may be eligible to receive between R100,000 and R2,000,000 each in compensation.

More recently in 2021, a group of 37 people in Cape Town were taken ill in a suspected mass food poisoning event after eating a community-cooked batch of food.

The victims experienced stomach cramps, nausea and vomiting, and were treated at nearby clinics.

Another case in 2021 involved three children in the Eastern Cape who died after allegedly eating “toxic noodles”. The children complained of cramps and nausea after eating instant noodles.

All three died en route to hospital. The National Consumer Commission eventually named Howe instant noodles as the brand linked to the deaths.

The right to food safety

Consumers of food products have the right to expect that the food they buy and consume from restaurants and retailers is safe for consumption.

Through the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act 54 of 1972, the National Department of Health regulates food health and safety. This act governs the hygiene standards for food premises, food transport and other food-related matters.

Food manufacturers and retailers must adhere to health and safety regulations to prevent food contamination or spoiling that could lead to food poisoning.

The Consumer Protection Act (CPA) also states that it’s possible to hold producers, importers and retailers liable for any harm caused by an unsafe product.

Challenges that affect claims for food poisoning

The main challenge in personal injury claims for food poisoning lies in proving a link between the illness and the food. It’s not enough to say that you became ill after eating some food. There has to be a proven link.

On medical records, food poisoning is often recorded as gastroenteritis, but this doesn’t provide a cause. To prove the illness came from the food, you need full pathology results that definitively link the contamination to the food in question.

You also need to prove that you weren’t negligent when it came to storing or preparing the food after you bought it. For example, you can’t try to claim food poisoning when you left meat in a hot car for a few hours.

How to support a food poisoning claim

If you suspect you have food poisoning from a specific source and the illness is serious enough to warrant further investigation, you must follow these steps to support a case.

  1. Visit a doctor and ask for a culture or test to identify the cause of your illness.
  2. To establish a link, take any leftover food and ask for it to be tested.
  3. Find out if anyone else was affected, especially around the same time. Speak to the grocery store or restaurant manager and ask friends or family who ate the same food. If you list your case on food poisoning websites, you can find any other cases reported at the same place.
  4. For a branded product, contact the manufacturer’s call centre directly and ask for a food poisoning questionnaire.

Class-action cases, where a single source of food has poisoned multiple people, are the most likely to succeed due to the large volume of evidence in favour of the claimants.

How to report food poisoning in South Africa

Even if you don’t plan to pursue a claim, you should report any serious food poisoning incident. It helps prevent further illness and helps the Department of Health maintain accurate data.

If the complaint is not resolved by the retailer or restaurant, you can report the incident to the National Consumer Commission on 012 428 7000.

You should also inform the Environmental Health Officer at your local municipality if you’re concerned there’s danger to other people and the outlet is refusing to take action.

These steps can help support your claim if you decide to open a personal injury case.

DSC Attorneys has decades of experience handling a range of personal injury claims. If you suspect you have a food poisoning or other personal injury claim, contact them for a free first consultation to get expert advice on whether you should pursue your claim. They work on a no-win, no-fee basis.

See also:

(This article is provided for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. For more information on the topic, please contact the author/s or the relevant provider.)
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