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As discussed in a post on FindLaw's Common Law blog, the FSIS and the Campbell Soup company announced a recall today of quite literally a ton of Spaghetti Os. Unfortunately for lovers of kid's comfort food everywhere, 15,000,000 pounds of the canned noodle and meat meals were recalled due to possible underprocessing.
According to a report from Reuters, the possibly underprocessed meat could reach consumers and cause illness. Campbell Spokesman Anthony Sanzio admitted that consumers who ate any underprocessed meatballs could experience the not too comforting symptoms of nausea or vomiting and possible other gastrointestinal issues. Happily up to this point, no one has been sickened due to the recalled noodles. But, in this time of constant salmonella outbreaks and e. coli related recalls, it is reasonable to ask: If a Spaghetti Os consumer were to fall ill thanks to that product, who would be responsible?
If a person becomes ill from a product that was not prepared properly, the legal idea governing any resulting suit would likely be that of product liability. The idea of product liability holds a manufacturer or seller liable for placing a defective product into the hands of the consumer. What makes a product defective? Very generally, the law requires that a product meet the "ordinary expectations" of the consumer. When a product has an unexpected defect or danger, it cannot be said to have met those ordinary expectations.
Applied to our meal of Spaghetti Os, most consumers would reasonably expect any meatballs included in the savory sauce to be fully cooked to avoid any bacteria or other contamination. It is surely a baseline of reasonableness to expect that the meatballs in a pre-cooked product have actually been cooked.
To prove such a legal theory in court, evidence such as a recall by a government agency would be an excellent foundation for showing the product was actually defective. In addition, when proving harm came from the defective product, injured parties get assistance from the theory of strict liability which applies to defective or unexpectedly dangerous consumer products. The only difficulty might be in tracing an illness directly to the specific food product that caused it.
With any luck, no one will have to trace their upset stomachs back to a nice little can of Spaghetti Os. But if you do, there is a way to get some help.