You don’t always think about a church needing CGL liability insurance. Churches aren’t bad, in fact,  churches are known for doing good. Some church groups engage in food banks, food drives, clothing centers, and all sorts of work to make this world a better place. Why would a church doing good have anything to worry about? Well, things happen!

Last Thanksgiving, one church served a meal with unexpected consequences. Three people were killed according to Food Safety News. It reported:

It remains unknown exactly what food, or foods, served by members of the Golden Hills Community Church on Thanksgiving Day was contaminated. Several hundred people ate the food, served at an American Legion auditorium in Antioch.

“But after extensive interviews we found most of the ill people ate turkey and mashed potatoes and they all ate around the same time. Some dishes served at the event, including cooked turkey, were brought to the site after they were prepared in private homes,” Marilyn Underwood, county environmental health director, said in the release.

The local officials had said it might take months for laboratory confirmation of the specific pathogen responsible for the more than two dozen illnesses and three deaths. However, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notified the county it had confirmed the illnesses were caused by Clostridium perfringens.

Many of the estimated 800 people who ate the church meal on Nov. 24 were elderly or infirmed residents of assisted living centers, including the three people who died. They were 43-year-old Christopher Cappetti, 59-year-old Chooi Keng Cheah, and 69-year-old Jane Evans, according to the Associated Press.

All of the reported illnesses occurred within 24 hours of consuming food at the church dinner, which is in line with the CDC’s published information on Clostridium perfringens.

The bacteria is commonly found in meat and poultry, but thorough cooking kills it. However, extremely small amounts of it can survive on utensils and surfaces and cross contaminate cooked foods. It multiplies very quickly when foods are left at room temperature.

Danger zone temperature graphic

The food was undoubtedly served with every good intention and with many kind thoughts. Unfortunately, mistakes can happen even while doing good works or perceived errors can be inferred. Charitable acts don’t alleviate the need for safety. Although many states have laws that protect good samaritans, these statutes are usually designed to protect aid rendered during an emergency or crisis. Whether the good samaritan laws apply to serving food will clearly depend upon the jurisdiction, but in many venues it is not going to prevent lawsuits for contaminated foods or improperly prepared meals.

Regardless of whether the church was at fault in this story, our point is the need for liability insurance for all activities, nonprofit or for profit ventures. Even if you didn’t make a mistake, it doesn’t mean your actions will not be brought into question. The use of prudence and good judgment are sufficient to keep you out of trouble. Liability insurance is there for good reason. If for no other reason, then defending lawsuits. The duty to defend under a liability insurance policy is invaluable.

We help businesses, churches, nonprofits, and others in a review of their risk management practices by starting with their liability insurance coverage. A comprehensive liability insurance policy that fits your needs is critical. You want to make sure you have the right coverage.