It’s official: the chicken you bought has been contaminated by salmonella. That makes it the first meat product to be officially given the “triple seal of approval” from food safety groups for containing no bacteria whatsoever.
This development is very good news for consumers, because this means that they can now confidently buy poultry without worrying that an outbreak of salmonella is lurking behind the rasher. Unfortunately, however, all this is just talk at the moment: any claims to that effect will have to come from purchasers of poultry product from processing plants that were found to have provided contaminated chicken.
However, this should also mean that a group of consumers is a step closer to putting a cash windfall in their hands. Let’s take a look at how such a claim will work.
First, you have to establish that you bought a product contaminated with salmonella, or with one of the two other types of bacteria that are responsible for infectious food poisoning: campylobacter and listeria. Then you have to convince a judge that the contents of your fridge were contaminated with your chicken.
As far as we know there is no market-wide standard or standard definition of how contaminated meat can be. However, you should know that either the health authorities or your supermarket’s own labs will usually test your food to make sure that it does not contain the pathogens. Alternatively, you can test the meat yourself if you have a good hobby – you can go into the lab in your local supermarket, take a chicken from the shelf and take a sample to be tested.
This is the first step. Then you have to present a claim to the court that you have been damaged by the salmonella consumption of that product. This is simple, but essentially consists of claiming that the salmonella you came into contact with during the handling of your chicken put you at risk of an outbreak of disease, and that you would have avoided that illness if the poultry processing plant had taken steps to eliminate the salmonella.
To prove this, you have to show that you believe the salmonella came from the plants themselves, through contaminated food products, or through the handling of chicken at the plant. If you can prove that you only came into contact with the product while you were in close proximity to it, and you have been given the chance to take out the salmonella itself after purchasing it, then you can claim compensation. The court will also take into account that this is the first instance of an outbreak of food poisoning involving salmonella and poultry products. You will likely be informed in writing that you are claiming “in a way that is within the scope of the law”.
If you can establish that you have been financially affected by an outbreak of illness caused by the contamination of your chicken, then you can claim compensation in a speedy process. It is important that you file a claim as soon as possible as there is a limited period for the court to determine the amount that it should pay you. Claiming later also risks more significant costs, such as a huge legal bill, in the event that the court rules against you.
Once you have been awarded compensation, your winnings will vary, but typically you can expect an 18% total payment at your final cheque. Your payment will include a payment from the value of the Chicken Trust compensation fund, plus statutory compensation from your county court case and your appeal or appeal costs, but no interest is normally added to it.
This is in addition to your age, sex, marital status, income, employment, property and other relevant information that has been gathered by the court about your status.
If you haven’t got a claim of your own, then the legal profession might be able to point you in the right direction. Also, you can always wait until the salmonella contamination scandal becomes more widely known, to use it as a bargaining tool for compensation.
Obviously, there are some limits. For example, if the salmonella was passed on to you by someone other than the chicken processing plant, then you may not be able to use the law to claim anything. If it was passed on to you from someone who either carried, handled or ate a contaminated product, you will be able to use the law to claim compensation. It is helpful to remember that many outbreaks of infectious disease in the past have resulted from a single person being exposed to a contaminated product. It might therefore be a good idea to consider not naming and shaming your housemate, should they be a suspect, in order to minimise any consequences.