You may have noticed while dining at your favorite restaurant that a small message lies at the bottom of the menu–printed in such a fine print that you can barely read it. What does this message mean? Applying to certain items on the menu, these messages serve as a warning to customers. The FDA requires restaurants to disclose to their customers the risks associated with eating undercooked animal products, and as a result, any menu item containing it must also include a food safety warning.

What does ‘undercooked’ mean?

All animal products contain a small amount of bacteria. Cooking these foods to an adequate internal temperature should kill harmful bacteria, and the consumer should not get food poisoning. A restaurant can still serve ‘undercooked’ food, however the institution does have the responsibility to warn customers of the risks that come with ordering these items.

Why would someone want to eat ‘undercooked’ food?

Think sushi and over-easy eggs. If these kinds of foods were cooked to the “safe” internal temperature, the texture would change, flavor would be lost, and the overall experience would not be the same. For some people, the risks associated with undercooked foods are not threatening enough to cause them to stop eating some of their favorite foods.

What is the safe internal temperature for animal products?

The safe temperature that animal products should be cooked to differs depending on the type. Here is a breakdown of safe temperatures for fish, eggs, and poultry:

  • Fish–155 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Eggs– 145 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Poultry– 165 degrees Fahrenheit

What if I get sick?

Unfortunately, a menu is a contract, and any menu item that includes a food safety warning is protected from personal injury claims. As a customer, you were warned of the risks associated with that food, but decided that the tasty meal outweighed these risks. You cannot claim the need for compensation from the restaurant that served you this food–in the end you accepted the foreseeable risks.

What if I got sick from foods without an explicit warning?

If you get food poisoning after consuming food from a restaurant that did not have an explicit warning, you could have a personal injury case. Most of the time, outbreaks of foodborne illnesses are linked to food manufacturers–and this company could be responsible for providing compensation.  Also, the restaurant itself could be liable for damages. The negligent handling of food or failure to send home sick employees could give the restaurant responsibility.

What You Need to Do

  • Seek medical attention. If you think you have food poisoning, go to the doctor so that tests can be done to determine the type of contamination. E.coli, campylobacter, Listeria, Hepatitis A, Vibrio, Norovirus, and Salmonella are common foodborne illnesses. Make sure a certain test called PFGE is done–this identifies the specific strain of bacteria.
  • Save Leftovers. Leftovers can be a good source of evidence, and they should be kept to determine what was the cause of your illness.
  • Contact a personal injury attorney. A personal injury attorney with experience in food poisoning will know if you have a case against a restaurant or food manufacturer. Through a good lawyer, you can get the compensation you deserve.

Kristen Valek blogs for Alamo Injury Attorneys, a personal injury and accident law firm based in San Antonio, Texas. Kristen enjoys eating ‘undercooked’ foods.

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