Food Poisoning in Singapore: Who Can I Sue?
Every year, approximately 600 million people around the world fall ill after consuming contaminated food. Chances are, you’ve either had or may suffer from food poisoning at some point in your life.
Most instances of food poisoning are mild and will pass in a few days even without medical treatment. However, should you find yourself the victim of a more severe case of food poisoning, you may wish to explore your legal options.
This article will explain some possible options that you can consider. It will cover:
- Who can you sue for food poisoning, such as the restaurant, food delivery rider or food delivery company
- Other steps you may take besides pursuing legal action, such as reporting the matter to a relevant authority
Who Can I Sue for Food Poisoning in Singapore?
Under the Sale of Food Act, restaurants and food businesses (including caterers/catering companies) must not sell unsafe foods, or any food that has been prepared under insanitary conditions. This includes foods likely to cause illness, injury or other physical harm to people who consume it, and thus would cover cases of food poisoning.
If you suspect you got food poisoning after eating contaminated food prepared by a restaurant, you may wish to pursue a claim for negligence or for a breach of contract.
Pursuing a claim for negligence
Negligence occurs where a party who owes another a duty of care breaches that duty and causes the other party some form of damages or loss. For example, restaurants generally owe their customers a duty to serve them food that is fit for human consumption. Where this duty is breached, and the customer suffers food poisoning, the restaurant may be liable for negligence.
When relying on a claim for negligence, you will have to show that the restaurant’s food was the cause of the food poisoning. The burden will then be on the restaurant to prove that it was not due to any negligence on their part.
Pursuing a claim for breach of contract
Alternatively, you may also pursue a claim for breach of contract. You may show that the restaurant has breached its contract to provide food that is safe for consumption under the Sale of Food Act. If successful, you may be entitled to receive compensation (e.g. for any medical expenses incurred to treat the food poisoning) as well as recover your legal costs.
The food delivery rider
Food may also become subsequently contaminated even if it was initially prepared safely. One such possible source of contamination is from food delivery riders.
In general, food delivery riders must ensure that they deliver food in a hygienic manner that does not compromise food safety. For example, the law requires food delivery riders to have good personal hygiene. Food delivery riders must also ensure that the vehicles and other equipment that they use to transport food are clean and in good condition so as to prevent any risk of contamination.
The food delivery companies themselves may also provide further guidelines for their riders, such as:
- Requiring foods to be delivered at the appropriate temperatures through the use of thermal bags to ensure that harmful bacteria do not cause the food to spoil.
- Separating food with an allergens note from other food, to avoid contamination during delivery.
If you believe that the source of contamination is not from the restaurant but rather, from your delivery rider, you may consider pursuing legal action against the delivery rider.
The food delivery company
In certain instances, the cause of food poisoning may be due to the acts or omissions of the food delivery company, resulting in the food becoming contaminated or spoiled.
For example, a food delivery company may require riders to deliver food to faraway locations without providing the necessary equipment to maintain the food at temperatures safe for consumption. This may result in cases of food poisoning despite the riders’ best efforts to ensure a timely delivery. In such cases, you may wish to pursue a claim for breach of contract against the food delivery company arising from an implied term that the food delivered was expected to be fit, or safe, for consumption.
Alternatively, if it can be shown that it is foreseeable that the company’s acts or omissions would result in customers getting food poisoning, you may also consider a claim for negligence. Taking the above example on deliveries to faraway locations, there is a real and foreseeable possibility that the food may be cold by the time it reaches the customer due to the longer delivery times required. If the company nevertheless, omits to take steps to ensure that the food remains at the appropriate temperatures, it may be liable for negligence.
However, even in instances where the food poisoning is not due to the fault of the company, but rather the fault of the rider, it may still be prudent to jointly name the company as a defendant. This is because it may be possible to argue that the duty of care owed by the company to its customers to ensure food safety is a non-delegable one (i.e. the company cannot absolve itself of liability by assigning it to another).
Other Steps to Take If You are a Victim of Food Poisoning
Report the matter to the Singapore Food Agency
You can also consider reporting the matter to the Singapore Food Agency.
One of the main functions of the Singapore Food Agency is to ensure that our food supply is safe and suitable for human consumption. To this end, the agency may issue various directions as appropriate, such as mandating that preventive or corrective actions be taken in cases of food poisoning.
For example, in 2021, the Singapore Food Agency revoked a restaurant’s licence and required all its food handlers and hygiene officers to retake a basic food hygiene course after 26 people suffered food poisoning from eating at the restaurant.
The Singapore Food Agency may also take legal action against any offenders. For example, a restaurant that fails to comply with any of its obligations under the Sale of Food Act, such as the obligation not to sell unsafe food, may be fined up to $5,000 for a first offence. Repeat offenders risk a fine of up to $10,000, or an imprisonment term of up to 3 months.
Report the matter to the food delivery company
If a food delivery service company is involved, you may want to report the matter to the relevant company. The food delivery company can then follow up on the matter as per their company policy, such as by offering refunds and taking action (warnings/suspensions) against the restaurant that had prepared the food.
If you are a victim of food poisoning and want to pursue legal action, you may wish to engage a lawyer who can advise you on your next steps. For example, a lawyer can assess your case to determine whether you have a claim that is worth pursuing in court. A lawyer can also explore other possible legal avenues that you can consider for your case.
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