Food Becomes Consumers’ Property Once It Is Put On Their Plates

Holiday SunsetIn a case that will be required reading for anyone working in the hospitality industry, the Court of Appeal has ruled in the context of a holiday food poisoning case that, when food is served, or taken from a buffet and put on a plate, it becomes the property of the consumer.

A couple had been taken seriously ill whilst on a package holiday at a luxury hotel in the Dominican Republic. After they launched proceedings against the travel company that had provided them with the ‘all inclusive’ holiday, a judge found that all reasonable food hygiene precautions had been taken and that the hotel management was blameless.

The couple’s claim was nevertheless upheld on the basis that the food items that they had taken from the hotel buffet were goods that had been transferred to them, within the meaning of the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982. Being contaminated, the food was not of satisfactory quality. Their illnesses were neither trivial nor transitory and they were between them awarded £24,000 in damages.

In challenging that ruling, the travel company expressed concern that package tour operators should not be taken to guarantee the quality of food and drink the world over when it is provided as part of a holiday they have contracted to provide. It was submitted that the company had contracted to supply services to the couple, not goods.

The company argued that it had provided no more than a licence to the couple to consume food from the buffet. There was no question of them having become owners of the food prior to it being destroyed on being put into their mouths. In upholding the judge’s ruling, however, the Court of Appeal found that, once the food had made its way onto the couple’s plates, it was appropriated to them and became their property. The conditions for liability under the Act were thus satisfied.