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If my dinner guests get food poisoning, does my insurance cover me?

Most home insurance policies do provide some coverage for food poisoning--usually enough to cover a visit to an emergency room. Liability coverage under a home insurance policy would cover you if costs went higher and guests took you to court.

Home insurance claims for food poisoning, though, are rare. Many guests don't tell their hosts if they get sick, and it's difficult to prove whether an illness resulted from food served or from a virus guests picked up before coming to dinner. Of course, if you host a dinner party for 12 and everyone gets sick with the same symptoms afterward, then the cause will be pretty obvious.

Although insurance claims for food poisoning are rare, incidents of food-borne illnesses are disturbingly common. According to the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 48 million people in the United States--one in six Americans--get sick from food-borne illnesses every year. Among those, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die.

According to CDC data, about 90 percent of estimated illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths were caused by seven pathogens:

1.      Salmonella

2.      Norovirus

3.      Campylobacter

4.      Toxoplasma

5.      E.coli 0157

6.      Listeria

7.      Clostridium perfringens

Salmonella was the leading cause of estimated hospitalizations and deaths from food-borne illnesses, and about 60 percent of estimated illnesses, but a much smaller percentage of severe illnesses, were caused by norovirus.

To prevent making your family and guests sick, follow safe food-handling and preparation tips, including separating meats and produce while preparing foods, cooking meat and poultry to the right temperatures, promptly chilling leftovers and avoiding unpasteurized milk and cheese and raw oysters. The federal government website, FoodSafety.gov, provides lots of helpful information.

For more, see worst cooks in America: How home insurance pays for food poisoning.

Last updated: Jan. 21, 2011