The City of Chicago is taking to Twitter to help identify cases of food poisoning. Monica Eng of The Chicago Tribune discusses a new City wide initiative to track and connect with citizens experiencing food poisoning. Eng reports, “Since April, an automated application has been searching Twitter for posts that include the words “food poisoning” by people who identify themselves as Chicagoans. Several volunteers then contact some of those people and suggest they complete a form that goes to the Chicago Department of Public Health.” To view some of the Tweets visit @foodbornechi. The department of health can use the reports to identify which restaurants to inspect and also investigate any outbreaks. The tweets are public and may transform how plaintiff’s lawyers build class actions.
Technology is making it easier to connect food poisoning victims and detect outbreak patterns. Before social media minor cases of food poisoning would be shared with family and maybe a handful of friends. If the case was severe, then hospital staff would have record of the incident. Hospitals are helpful place to begin an investigation, but only when there are enough cases to suspect a wide spread outbreak. Time is precious in a serious outbreak. Determining the source of outbreak early is crucial to prevent further illnesses and even deaths. Social media and meta data will change how departments of health and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) conduct investigations. But what about non-outbreak cases or cases involving only minor symptoms?
The Food Safety Modernization Act brings new litigation potential to minor bouts of food poisoning. In previous posts Food Court discussed the potential for class action litigation for minor food poisoning. In labeling lawsuits California and New York courts held minor damages when aggregated are enough to allow for litigation. Once finalized FSMA will replace generalized guidance with specific standards and activities. If an individual becomes ill and the manufacturer, distributor, or supplier (or all three) did not follow FSMA then the person can sue. Add to the formula a new ability to find similar plaintiffs who became ill from the same food and you have a perfect storm for a new wave of class actions. Plaintiffs can quickly build a class and sue for failure to follow the standards of FSMA.
The initiative in Chicago is full of exciting potential to mitigate the effect of serious outbreaks, but also forebodes a new era of litigation.