Salmonella. Escherichia coli. Listeria. These words strike fear in the hearts of in-house counsel and executives in the food industry. Outbreaks of foodborne illnesses—and other incidents involving tainted food—have received a great deal of attention in recent years. In 2007, they reached a new peak: an outbreak of botulism infections caused by canned chili, a recall of more than 21 million pounds of ground beef and hamburger patties due to fears of E. coli contamination, a peanut butter recall related to Salmonella poisoning outbreaks in 47 states, and a recall of baby food allegedly tainted with Salmonella. For the companies involved, the inevitable fallout will include defense and liability costs incurred in large-scale litigation, including consumer class actions, losses due to product recalls and business interruption, damage to reputation, and in some cases, bankruptcy.
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