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Food Poisoning Claims: A Question of Liability

I bought some chicken recently from a well-known supermarket. It was not until I reached the till that I realised that the sell-by date had already expired. The ‘best before date' was the day previously. I drew this point to the attention of one of the assistants and duly went off to get another piece of chicken.This is not the first time that I have noticed products recently that are effectively ‘out of date’ on the shelves. I am quite sure that it is an oversight on the part of the supermarket. At the same time we are all well aware that everyone, including shop owners, are tightening their belts and looking to cut corners where they can. I am not suggesting for one moment that by doing so they are acting in any way which is not in the best interests of their customers or indeed is in any way illegal. What I am suggesting however, is that boundaries are perhaps being pushed. The purpose of this blog is to query the question of liability if one buys a product that is out of date. It is of course in the super market's best interest to negate the possibility of a food poisoning claim being brought against them.I am sure the ‘best by’ dates which are of course set after vigorous laboratory testing on food products, are well within safe limits as far as bacterial growth is concerned. I am equally sure, from a lay person’s point of view, that most if not all food products have an element of bacteria within them. The reason of course for chicken to be kept in the chiller cabinet is to slow the bacteria multiplying to such an extent where it then poses a hazard. However, it must follow that the longer such a product stays on the shelf, despite the cooling, the greater the chance of the bacteria then multiplying to unsafe levels.I say this with the proviso that I have raised about that, vigorous testing is no doubt carried out and even if therefore the product stays on the shelf two or three days longer than it should do, I have little doubt that it will still prove to be safe so long as cooked in an adequate and responsible manner.What happens however if the product stays on the shelf too long? Does it then pose a hazard and if someone suffers food poisoning as a result, where does liability lie?  Russell Jones & Walker have expert food poisoning solicitors on hand to help in any way should an event like this occur.The obvious difficulty in such a claim is in establishing first of all that the food product purchased was beyond its sell by date and as a result, is likely therefore to have posed a hazard.The Claimant is on somewhat safer ground if they can establish this with an expert, and one will be of course required. The Claimant still faces the obvious difficulty in addition, that the Claimant has to establish that they then cooked the product responsibly and despite this they still sustained an injury namely food poisoning.Such a claim is in theory possible, whether the evidence actually supports the claim is another matter and certainly in such a case, each particular claim is going to turn on its own facts. It raises however a salient point in our difficult economic times, that many people are as I have said, pushing the boundaries and a result, it is only right and proper that we are aware and take appropriate notice.Tristan Hallam is a partner in Personal Injury in the London office of Russell Jones & Walker. If you or a member of your family has suffered an accident or injury call our expert personal injury solicitors on 0800 916 9046, or email and one of our specialist personal injury team will review your compensation claim for free.