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Tristan Hallam: Bacteria Laden Food? Serious Public Liability Issues

I am sure that we have all followed with interest the various twists and turns that have involved the recent E.Coli outbreak which tragically killed a number of people. I only wanted to comment briefly on the outbreak since investigations are clearly very much ongoing as to the source of the outbreak.

One wonders however, whether given the nature of the E.Coli bacteria and despite a specific strain having been identified, whether the actual source will ever be found. As it is, I have little doubt that claims will be rightly considered. It is a salient lesson to those who produce not only food stuffs but indeed any goods which are subsequently sold, that they have a continued duty.

I have blogged previously about public liability. I have indicated the importance of evidence in support as well as establishing a breach. I did so in relation to specific items and had in mind a claim that I am handling at the moment for my client who was injured when using his bicycle. The same issues however apply to foodstuff in that not only the manufacturer but the seller, whether it be a supermarket or otherwise, which has an obligation in relation to the products sold.

The difficulty has to be that whilst if one was to buy a bicycle which was subsequently defective and you can trace the defect back to the manufacturer and thereby the claim is also brought against the seller (a claim under the Consumer Protection and Sale of Goods Legislation respectively) and although you suffer an injury if you were to fall off a bicycle which comes apart whilst you were riding it, it is very different if one eats an item of produce which has high levels of harmful bacteria which could kill as the past few weeks have shown.

You may say the risk of bacteria mutating into such a harmful strain is small. You may say there is equally the risk of death if one rides a defective bicycle in traffic. I for one however, would not relish eating anything which might even remotely cause me harm.

The salient message has to be that which one of the EU commissioners said when spoken to on the news recently in that we should…. always wash the products that we buy very carefully (the same has always applied to cooking items such as meat and fish and ensuring that these items are thoroughly cooked through) and also….. to wash our hands properly whenever appropriate.

This brings in mind a comment made by my mother recently who grew up on a farm in Germany some years ago. This was a very rural environment in those days and compost and manure was used extensively on the fields as it still is. My mother said recently that in those days everything was cooked. This even went as far as cooking cucumbers and tomatoes. One can certainly see the logic. As always, we should perhaps learn lessons from our past.

Tristan Hallam is a partner in Personal Injury in the London office of Slater and Gordon Lawyers. If you or a member of your family has suffered an accident or injury call our expert personal injury solicitors on 0800 916 9046, fill in our short online claim form and one of our specialist personal injury team will review your compensation claim for free.