Insurers are making efforts to exclude food-borne illness claims from coverage under comprehensive general liability (“CGL”) policies. The "Organic Pathogens Exclusion" is a good example.

While a claim for food-borne illness may normally be covered by a CGL policy, if you have an organic pathogens exclusion, your insurer will not provide a defense and will not cover your losses if your business is sued as a result of a food-borne illness.

Organic pathogens exclusions can take multiple forms. Some policies include an endorsement that excludes any “loss” for “any actual, alleged or threatened exposure to, existence of, presence of, ingestion of, inhalation of or contact with any biological agents.” “Biological agents” are usually defined to include things like bacteria, viruses or other pathogens (whether or not a microorganism).

Other policies simply include an endorsement providing that “this policy does not insure any loss, damage, claim, cost, expense, fine, penalty or other sum either directly or indirectly arising out of, relating to or caused by an “organic pathogen.” These policies generally define “organic pathogen” to mean “any organic irritant or contaminant, including but not limited to fungus, bacteria, virus, or other microorganism of any type, including but not limited to their byproducts such as spores or mycotoxin, or any hazardous substance as classified by the EPA.”

Any business involved in food production should take notice. Insurers are actively marketing policies with organic pathogen exclusions to food businesses whose greatest liability exposure may be food-borne illness. Careful and regular review of insurance policies and coverages is essential.