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Suppose that an individual ate some spoiled food but she has no obvious symptoms due to her own healthiness and well-being. Suing the supermarket for medical bills is unrealistic; at the same time, having spoiled food might have long-term negative effects which is difficult to measure and prove.

Some countries have laws that such an individual is entitled a remedies 10X of the original purchase amount (see for example p. 43 of this summary of food safety laws in China). What rights do Americans (or Europeans) have?

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  • 5
    Hmm. She bought, and then ate, some food with no ill effects. Now she says the food may have been off (or may not, it's impossible to say either way as she's eaten it) and wants to sue for some unknown, unprovable, theoretical, abstract illness in the far-future.
    – user35069
    Oct 19, 2022 at 8:30
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    How does the consumer know the food was "spoiled"?
    – Lag
    Oct 19, 2022 at 8:33
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    Is there a condition based on spoiled food that has no present symptoms but a long term negative effect? Either you get gastroenteritis or you don't? I'm not a doctor but just trying to puzzle it out, maybe there exists some fermentation byproduct that becomes built up environmental exposure, with no impact on a first low dose or something?
    – user662852
    Oct 19, 2022 at 14:25
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    @user662852 one that springs to mind is a prion disease. For example, if you eat produce from a cow that had bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or mad cow disease) you could be infected with Variant Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (aka 'human mad cow disease'). The symptoms would tend to occur later in life. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Variant_Creutzfeldt%E2%80%93Jakob_disease ninds.nih.gov/creutzfeldt-jakob-disease-fact-sheet
    – Lag
    Oct 19, 2022 at 16:01
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    @Jen Food Safety Law of China Article 148 "...In the event that any manufacturer produces food that does not conform to food safety standards or distributes food while being aware of its nonconformity, the customer can demand the producer/distributor to pay a penalty of 10 times the paid amount or 3 times of the loss, in addition to the compensation for the loss thereof..." apps.fas.usda.gov/newgainapi/api/report/…
    – dodo
    Oct 20, 2022 at 1:52

3 Answers 3

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She (as the claimant) would have to prove that the food caused her "long-term negative effects" and the shop (as the defendant) was negligent in knowingly offering spoilt food - a legal concept known as "causation" that Wikipedia describes as concering:

the legal tests of remoteness, causation and foreseeability in the tort of negligence. It is also relevant for English criminal law and English contract law.

[...]

The claimant must prove that the breach of the duty of care caused actionable damage. The test for these purposes is a balance between proximity and remoteness:

  • that there was a factual link between what the defendant did or failed to do, and the loss and damage sustained by the claimant, and

  • that it was reasonably foreseeable at the relevant time that this behaviour would cause loss and damage of that type.

I cannot find any relevant caselaw using the given circumstances of far-future ill-effects, but it seems unlikely (to me) that such a claim would succeed on the information available due to the remoteness between events.

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    And the downvote is for why..? Maybe my erstwhile random troll has returned?
    – user35069
    Oct 19, 2022 at 23:04
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Assuming that it could be established that the food was in fact spoiled when sold, there is probably a valid claim for the purchase price of the food. Given that no medical effects have been established, and no related medical expenses incurred, there seems no basis for any claim for medical expenses. There might possibly be a claim for the distasteful exprience of eating spoiled food, but I suspect not in the absence of a medical claim.

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  • This is true only for infant formula and baby food, otherwise so-called expiration dates are optional and legally unenforceable.
    – user6726
    Oct 19, 2022 at 15:50
  • @user6726 Thank you, I have edited my answer in light of your comment. Oct 19, 2022 at 15:54
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    AFAIK "sell by" and "best before" dates have little legal significance, but food must be edible, or it is not "fit for purpose". "Best before" actually means exactly that; your food might look less good or taste less good but is still edible. Like bread going hard that is still edible, just not very nice.
    – gnasher729
    Oct 19, 2022 at 16:48
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    In the U.S. this claim for the price of the food could arise either under the Uniform Commercial Code Article 2 implied warranty of merchantability or under a common law defective product liability theory. The cost of any medical visit or tests to confirm that you don't have a physical injury might also be recoverable. Either way, however, under U.S. law you wouldn't get your attorneys' fees so it would only be economic to bring in small claims court without a lawyer.
    – ohwilleke
    Oct 19, 2022 at 21:42
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Pretty much none. A successful lawsuit would require:

  • Provable damages (there are none- a nebulous "well I might be less healthy down the line maybe" is worth nothing).
  • An actual link between the negligence and the damages. A typical person eats 3 meals per day and the post talks about symptoms that could take weeks to appear. How do you demonstrate that the layered sponge cake in question was the cause?

Realistically, any compensation would be given my asking customer service nicely as they don't want to lose a customer or potential bad publicity.

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