What to Do if You Find a Foreign Object in Food: Liability and Compensation

Whether you broke a tooth or suffered other harm from eating food, you deserve fair compensation. Here’s how to build a strong food injury case.

When you pick up carryout food or sit down for a meal away from home, the restaurant has a duty of care to provide food that is clean and safe.

Hard or sharp objects in food can cause physical injuries to the teeth, gums, and digestive tract. Repulsive materials found in food can be psychologically traumatic.

You have the right to seek compensation from a negligent restaurant or other provider when you are hurt by food contaminated with objects or material that shouldn’t be there.

Injuries from Foreign Objects in Food

When an object ends up in your food that doesn’t belong there, like pieces of plastic or glass, pieces of metal, nails, hairpins, bandaids, or any other foreign object, you may be injured from chewing or ingesting it. Extreme cases may require surgery to retrieve a swallowed object.

Sometimes naturally occurring materials can also cause injuries, like fish bones, cherry pits, or bits of clam shells. When food is advertised as being free of harmful objects, like “pitted olives” you may have the right to compensation if the unexpected object injures you.

Similarly, you may have a cause of action for a severe allergic reaction to an undisclosed ingredient in the food, like peanuts, gluten, or chemical additives.

Common Injuries from Foreign Objects in Food

  • Broken teeth
  • Punctured gums
  • Lacerations inside the mouth
  • Choking
  • Jaw or Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) injuries
  • Damage to the esophagus
  • Damage to the stomach or intestines

What to Do After Finding a Foreign Object in Food

No matter where you are when a hazardous item in your food causes injuries, there are immediate steps to take that will help if you later decide to file an injury claim or lawsuit.

Steps After Finding a Foreign Object in Restaurant Food

  1. Notify Management: If you are eating at a restaurant or had carry-out and find something in your food that shouldn’t be there, immediately call or ask to see a manager. You want restaurant management to know what happened.
  2. Get Insurance Info: If you’re injured, ask the manager to provide the name and contact information of the restaurant’s insurance company.
  3. Take Notes: Write down everything the manager said to you, including any apologies or excuses for the hazardous object in your food.
  4. Take Pictures: Take pictures of the object on your plate, and close-ups of the object. Also, take pictures of the restaurant menu or carry-out receipt to establish where the food came from.
  5. Get Medical Care: If you broke a tooth or suffered cuts in your mouth, seek medical care from a dentist or doctor right away. Tell your care provider exactly when, where, and how you were injured.
  6. Contact an Attorney: If your injury was serious, get a free case review from a personal injury attorney. Proving liability in these types of cases can be difficult.

Steps After Finding a Foreign Object in Packaged Food

  1. Save the Package: If the foreign object was in packaged food purchased for home use, save the can, box, or packaging from the product, and your grocery receipt if you still have it.
  2. Take Photos: Take pictures of the hazardous object next to the food it was in. Take pictures of the packaging.
  3. Get Medical Care: If you broke a tooth or suffered cuts in your mouth, see a dentist or doctor right away. Tell your care provider exactly when, where, and how you were injured.
  4. Contact the Manufacturer or Distributor: The manufacturer and customer service information should be on the food package. Contact them to report the injury and get their insurance information.
  5. Speak with an Attorney: If your injury was serious, you need to speak with a personal injury attorney. Proving liability in these types of cases can be difficult, and big corporations have an army of lawyers to fight against food cases.

Food Safety Laws and Liability

Food manufacturers, packing facilities, retailers, restaurants, and other commercial food enterprises are strictly regulated by state and federal authorities to ensure food safety.

Federal Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)

The Food Safety Modernization Act was signed into law in 2011, greatly expanding the powers of the Food and Drug Administration to protect U.S. health and safety.

An important part of the FSMA includes specific regulations designed to prevent contamination of the food supply. The rules are intended to dramatically reduce the occurrence of food poisoning outbreaks in the United States.

For the latest Federal food safety alerts and recalls, visit:

State Food Safety Laws

Every state and territory in the U.S. has rules, regulations, and guidelines governing the manufacturing and distribution of food products.

Each state also regulates, licenses, and inspects businesses that sell food products. Depending on the state, the rules apply to grocery stores, restaurants, catering services, and even farmer’s markets.

Find your location on this FDA table of Retail and Food Service Codes and Regulations by State.

Compensation for Food Injuries

Manufacturers, stores, and restaurants are legally bound to exercise reasonable care when dealing with food for sale to consumers. If they are negligent and produce food contaminated with foreign matter, they can be held liable for any resulting injuries.

When a person files a lawsuit because they were injured by foreign matter in food, the legal basis for blaming the manufacturer is called strict product liability.

To win a strict product liability claim, you must show:

  1. The food product contained a foreign object when it was served to you.
  2. The foreign body in your food was the direct and proximate cause of your injury.
  3. You have measurable and verifiable damages.

What Your Food Injury Claim Is Worth

In most cases, your claim value can be calculated like any other relatively minor personal injury claim. Add up your medical expenses and lost wages, then add one to two times that amount to account for your pain and suffering.

Example of Calculating Compensation for a Broken Tooth 

Roger ordered the club sandwich platter at a popular diner. He had taken his second bite of the sandwich when he bit down on something hard and experienced immediate pain. Roger spit everything out of his mouth. He could see a section of his broken tooth and a shiny blue stone that looked like it came off a piece of jewelry.

Roger had to get a crown on his broken tooth and lost two days from work. He had the following losses related to his injury:

Dental expenses: $1,500

Lost wages: $320

Total economic damages: $1,820 ($1,500 + $320)

Non-economic damages: $2,730 ($1,820 x 1.5)

Total estimated settlement value: $4,550 ($1,820 + $2,730)

Roger could make a reasonable settlement demand for $5,000 to the insurance company, with the understanding that his final settlement after negotiations will be a bit less.

Strong Personal Injury Claims Have Good Evidence

Evidence is the key to a successful food contamination claim. Without evidence, you can’t connect your injuries to the responsible restaurant or commercial handler.

How to gather critical forms of evidence:

  • Save food wrappers or packaging. Labels often have codes that will indicate when and where the food was packaged.
  • Save your receipt from the store or restaurant.
  • Get immediate medical attention. Be sure to tell your doctor what you ate, and when you ate it. Request copies of your medical records and bills for your evaluation and treatment.
  • Ask family or friends who saw you eat the adulterated food, or saw your injuries, for a written statement of what they saw and the timing involved.
  • Ask your employer for a statement of lost wages if you missed work because of food poisoning.

Workers’ Compensation for Food Injuries

If you broke a tooth or were otherwise injured while on the job, you may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. Workers’ comp covers medical treatment, out-of-pocket expenses, and about two-thirds of wages lost while recovering (it does not cover pain and suffering).

You likely will qualify for workers’ comp if your employer had the food brought in by a caterer, you were harmed at a work-related event, or you were injured by food served in the company cafeteria.

Unfortunately, you may not be eligible for workers’ compensation if you brought tainted food into work with you, or if you were out on your lunch break and ate contaminated food.

In either case, you may be able to file a claim against the manufacturer of the food product, especially if you can prove the food was the direct cause of your injuries. In a third-party claim like this, you can seek compensation for the full amount of your lost wages, and an amount for pain and suffering.

When You Need an Attorney

If you’ve completely recovered from injuries caused by foreign matter in your food and have little or no medical bills, your case probably isn’t strong enough for a full-blown legal action.

However, if the foreign object is particularly vile, like feces, human fingers, or other repugnant materials, seek prompt legal advice. An attorney might be able to help you build a food lawsuit based on emotional distress.

Case Example: Used Condom in Soup Settlement 

Philip Hodousek and his wife joined other family members for dinner at the Claim Jumper Restaurant in Orange County, California. Hodousek ordered his favorite french onion soup, and began eating what he believed was melted cheese floating on the top of the bowl.

Hodousek alleged the “cheese” was rubbery, so he spit it out, only to discover it was a used condom. Hodousek reported the foreign object to the manager, then rushed to the bathroom to vomit.

The Hodouseks filed a personal injury lawsuit against the Claim Jumper Restaurant, alleging significant emotional distress, including harm to their marital relations. The Hodouseks’ injury case was settled before trial for an undisclosed amount.

For serious injury claims, you’ll need help from an established law firm to get fair compensation from a corporate giant.

You need professional legal counsel for claims involving:

  • Children injured by poisoned or adulterated food
  • Wrongful death caused by foreign objects in food
  • Severe or permanent injuries from foodborne injuries

A skilled personal injury attorney will know whether you should pursue compensation from the food manufacturer, grocery store, restaurant, or a combination of negligent parties.

Reputable personal injury lawyers typically offer free consultations to victims. Most injury lawyers represent clients on a contingency fee basis, meaning the lawyer’s fees won’t be paid unless your case settles or you win a court verdict.

Foreign Object in Food Injury Questions

Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>