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Turkey trouble: Home insurance pays for food poisoning

If your cooking adventures sometimes put frowns on those around your dinner table, consider the embarrassment of serving up actual food poisoning to your guests. Even the best cook can unwittingly serve undercooked pork or forget to rinse the lettuce.

If a meal disaster like this hits, your home insurance has you covered.

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insurance for food poisoning"It depends on the home insurance policy, but most people are covered for up to $5,000," says Don Griffin, vice president of personal lines for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America. "That usually is enough to cover a visit to the emergency room. If the costs go beyond that, the person could sue and that expense would come under your home insurance liability coverage."

Food poisoning culprits

Food poisoning comes from foods contaminated with bacteria, viruses or toxins. Mild cases are fairly common; they are characterized by diarrhea and an upset stomach, and most people call it the stomach flu. Mild cases occur quickly -- within a few hours of eating the tainted dish -- but other forms of food poisoning may not show up for several days.

Salmonella is one of the most common foodborne illnesses and usually comes from raw or undercooked eggs or meat. It’s also caused by food handlers who do not wash their hands properly.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there are more than 30 million cases of food poisoning in the United States each year. Of these cases, roughly 300,000 people will be hospitalized and 5,000 people will die.

Forms of food poisoning and common sources

Botulism: The deadliest form, usually from improperly canned or preserved food.

Campylobacter: In contaminated chicken, unchlorinated water and raw milk.

Listeria: In raw foods, uncooked meats and vegetables, and contaminated processed foods.

Staphylococcus: In salad dressings, milk products, cream pastries and food kept at room temperature.

Shigella: Bacteria transmitted directly from an infected person or contaminated food or water.

Vibrio: In contaminated seafood.

Food poisoning isn't on the top of minds of most party hosts, and these types of claims against home insurance are rare, Griffin said.

"Most [guests] will just ride it out and never tell their hosts," he says. "They're too embarrassed."

And proving the source of the food poisoning is often difficult, says Loretta Worters of the Insurance Information Institute.

"You have to wonder, 'Did your guest eat something beforehand that caused them to get sick?'" Worters says. "Was it the fault of the store where you bought the meat or the salad? Sometimes it's hard to determine negligence on the part of the homeowner and so claims aren't filed against their home insurance. But if a number of people got sick at the same time and they all ate something you prepared in your home, that's another matter."

Hiring a caterer won’t necessarily get you off the hook. A 2008 survey by the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America found that nearly 46 percent of home insurance policyholders didn't realize they were liable if a guest became seriously ill from catered food consumed at the host's home.

Food safety precautions

Limit your guest list to people you know well. Most people, if they need treatment for food poisoning, will put the expense on their health insurance and not your home insurance.

  • Host your party at a restaurant or bar. If someone gets sick and wants to make an insurance claim, the restaurant's policy will generally cover it.
  • In addition to your home insurance, purchase an inexpensive personal umbrella insurance policy, which provides additional coverage at a relatively low cost.

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