Norovirus has been in the news regarding large outbreaks on cruise ships: 630 passengers and 54 crew in 2014 on Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas cruise ship and 600 passengers in 2006 on Carnival Liberty cruise ship. However, a June CDC report finds you are much more likely to catch the bug in a restaurant than on a cruise ship.
Noroviruses have a big impact on people’s health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that noroviruses are responsible for more than half of all food-borne disease outbreaks each year. Noroviruses are highly contagious gastrointestinal illnesses that cause inflammation of the stomach and large intestines, resulting in vomiting and diarrhea. Some people may need to be hospitalized, and people can even die. Noroviruses are the most common cause of diarrhea in adults and the second most common cause in children.
Norovirus outbreaks or even singular cases can occur anywhere people gather or food is served. About 20 million people get sick from norovirus each year, most from close contact with infected people, but also by eating contaminated food. Norovirus is the leading cause of disease and illness outbreaks from contaminated food. Infected food workers who handles food after it has been cooked – cooks, final prep assemblers, and servers – cause about 70% of reported norovirus outbreaks from contaminated food. Heat above 140 degrees Fahrenheit kills the virus. But norovirus can stay alive on countertops, spoons and other kitchen surfaces for up to two weeks, and hand sanitizers won’t necessarily kill it.
The best way to prevent these personal injuries and deaths from noroviruses is for the food service industry to strictly enforce frequent hand washing by its food service employees. The CDC has also called upon the food service industry to foster a working environment where employee sick leave is provided, so food workers stay home when they are sick.
One of the first areas where the old “buyer beware” concept began to crumble was in food safety, because customers had no way to protect themselves from tainted food, while business profited from the food business.
Florida has expressly adopted the strict liability doctrine of The Restatement (2nd) of Torts, §402(A), as its standard for products liability. Samuel Friedland Family Enter. v. Amoroso, 630 So. 2d 1067, 1068 (Fla. 1994); West v. Caterpillar Tractor Co. Inc., 336 So. 2d 80, 87 (Fla. 1976). The underlying basis of the doctrine of strict liability is that those entities within a product’s distributive chain who profit from the sale of it to the public should bear the financial burden of even an undetectable product defect, instead of the innocent person injured by it. See McFadden v. Staley, 687 So. 2d 357 (Fla. 4th DCA 1997).
Florida also recognizes negligence and breach of warranty causes of action for tainted food. A restaurant or other food supplier warrants the safety of its food, an implied warranty of fitness. Section 500.10 (1)(a), F. S., defines a food to be deemed to be adulterated if “it bears or contains any poisonous or deleterious substance which may render it injurious to health… .” A product is in an unreasonably dangerous condition when its risks are greater than a reasonable buyer would expect. Perez v. National Presto Industries, Inc., 431 So. 2d 667, 669 (1983). Pursuant to this consumer-expectation test, the issue is whether the product, at the time it left the seller’s hands, was in a condition not contemplated by the consumer, which condition was unreasonably dangerous to the consumer.
At Terrell • Hogan, helping families recover from accidents and personal injury is what we do every day, but we know that it’s best to try to find ways to prevent injury and loss before they happen. So, until there’s a solution to this worrisome problem, Terrell • Hogan will continue to repeat information about recalls of defective and dangerous products to help keep you informed and safe.