Food contamination: Beware of foreign objects

Foreign material contamination in food is a serious safety concern. It can cause choking, injury, and illness in consumers. In some cases, it can even be fatal.

Baker in a bakery

Food can become contaminated at any point in the food supply chain process, including:

  • Production
  • Processing
  • Distribution
  • Preparation

Contaminated foods cost the food industry billions of dollars each year.

What foreign materials are commonly found in food?

Consumers have found some real surprises in their packaging over the years, but the most common culprits are:

  • Metal (staples, screws, nuts, bolts)
  • Glass (shards, splinters)
  • Plastic (pieces of packaging, gloves)
  • Wood (splinters, sawdust)
  • Paper (cardboard, labels)
  • Insects
  • Rodents
  • Animal hair
  • Feathers
Plastic in a loaf of white sliced bread

Photo credit: Remco Products

What are some extreme cases of foreign material contamination?

  • Boston resident Jorge Fuentes found a live black widow spider in a bag of grapes he’d purchased from Whole Foods.
  • The Hoffman Family of Grand Ledge, Michigan got a surprise when they opened a bag of frozen vegetables. They found a frozen frog. Apparently, the FDA did not respond but the Meijer supermarket chain was notified and promptly began a recall of this product.
  • In 2009, Stephen Forse of Oxfordshire, England discovered a dead mouse baked into a loaf of bread he had just bought from the store.
  • The flavor of Fred DeNegri’s Pepsi was very off, and the substance was jelly-like. Poison Control and the FDA were contacted, and the can’s contents were analyzed. The Food and Drug Administration Office of Regulatory Affairs concluded the foreign matter appeared to be a frog or a toad.
  • New Yorker John Agnesini started snacking on a Subway sandwich and found a knife between his teeth. Luckily, he just bit into the melted plastic handle.

What are some food safety measures to prevent foreign material contamination?

It is important to implement safety measures at all stages of the chain to reduce the potential for contamination. There are several things that businesses can do to reduce the risk of their product being associated with recalls, bad press, or even worse: sickened customers. These include:

  • GMPs: Implementing good manufacturing practices (GMPs). GMPs are a set of basic food safety requirements that cover all aspects of food production, from raw material handling to sanitation.
  • Conducting supplier audits: Restaurants need to audit their suppliers to ensure that they are following GMPs and that their products are free of foreign materials. Supplier audits should be conducted regularly, especially for high-risk suppliers who import food from other countries.
  • Inspection: Inspecting incoming raw materials and packaging materials before they enter a facility is vital. The same applies to the containers that are used to package food for to-go orders. This inspection can be done visually, manually, or using electronic sorting equipment.
  • Maintaining equipment and facilities: Equipment and facilities should be properly maintained and cleaned to prevent contamination. This includes regularly inspecting equipment for wear and tear and then cleaning and sanitizing all surfaces that come into contact with food.
  • Training employees: All employees should be trained on GMPs and how to identify and prevent foreign material contamination. Training should be provided regularly, and employees should be encouraged to report any concerns to their supervisor immediately.

People inspecting mussels in a factory

What happens if a company finds foreign matter while they are creating the product?

If foreign materials are detected in a food product, it is important to take immediate action to prevent the product from reaching consumers. This may involve recalling the product, destroying the batch, or correcting the problem and re-releasing the food back into the marketplace.

What happens after a consumer finds foreign matter in their food?

For a consumer, finding a foreign object in your food can be a traumatic experience. It can also be dangerous, depending on the type of object and where it is found. If you find a foreign object in your food, it is important to take the following steps:

  • Stop eating immediately. If you have already taken a bite of the food, spit it out immediately and rinse your mouth with water.
  • Remove the foreign object from the food. If the object is small and easy to remove, do so carefully. If the object is large or difficult to remove, leave it in the food.
  • Take pictures of the foreign object and the food. This will help you to document the incident and may be useful if you decide to file a lawsuit.
  • Save the food and the foreign object. Place the food in a sealed container and put the foreign object in a separate sealed container. If you plan on storing the food for a long period, consider keeping it in the freezer to prevent mold. This evidence will be important if you decide to pursue legal action.
  • Notify the restaurant or food establishment. If you find a foreign object in food that you purchased from a restaurant or food establishment, let the manager know immediately. Aside from creating a record that the incident occurred, the management of the establishment may be able to investigate the matter and take steps to prevent it from happening again.
  • File a complaint with the appropriate authorities. If you are injured or become ill after eating food that contained a foreign object, you may want to file a complaint with the local health department or food safety agency. They can investigate the incident and take steps to protect other consumers.
  • Consider legal action. If you are injured or become ill after eating food that contained a foreign object, you may want to consider legal action.
Frozen frog in a bag of vegetables

Phot credit:

For those who enjoy patronizing their local restaurants and bars, take a moment to look around and assess the cleanliness of the facility. If you see any signs of poor hygiene, such as dirty tables or floors, it is best to err on the side of caution and find another place to eat.

The attorneys at Allen & Allen are here to use their knowledge of the law and experience to protect people who are injured due to the negligence of others. If you have been injured or sickened due to contaminated food, you may be entitled to compensation. Call the foodborne illness lawyers today for a free case evaluation, at 866-772-1384.