Is Coughing on Food Illegal?

If you're at a grocery store, you get a little tickle in your throat, and you accidentally cough on food products, your actions would likely not be considered illegal. However, suppose you go to the store specifically to cough on food and leave it on the shelves for consumers to purchase. In that scenario, you could be committing a crime because you acted intentionally or knowingly. The specific charges you could face depend on the effect your actions could have on the health and safety of others. You may be accused of tampering with consumer products or criminal mischief. But what differentiates the two charges? We'll discuss that in this blog.

Texas's Definition of Tampering with a Consumer Product

Under Texas Penal Code 22.09, it is illegal to knowingly or intentionally tamper with food that may be sold to the public for consumption. For you to be charged under this statute, you must have added some type of substance to the food product that would make it probable that another person would suffer serious bodily injury because of your actions. Serious bodily injury is that which may put someone at substantial risk of death or may result in "serious permanent disfigurement" or "protracted loss or impairment" of a limb or organ.

If you're a healthy individual, it might be tough to argue that your coughing on food would cause serious injury. However, in the time of COVID-19, which can be transmitted through respiratory droplets, if you are an infected person and intentionally cough on a food product, your actions may meet the definitions of this offense.

Recently, a 14-year-old boy was charged with tampering with food when he coughed on products at a local store as part of a prank – although it wasn't disclosed whether or not the boy had COVID-19.

Tampering with a consumer product is a serious assaultive offense and is always charged as a felony.

The degree of felony depends on the circumstances, and include:

  • State jail felony: If a person threatens to tamper with food, they could be penalized by a maximum of 180 days in state jail and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
  • Second-degree: This is levied for intentionally or knowingly tampering with a consumer product. Penalties include up to 20 years' imprisonment and/or up to a $10,000 fine.
  • First-degree: A person faces this charge if their tampering actually caused serious injury. A conviction may result in up to 99 years in prison and/or up to $10,000 in fines.

Criminal Mischief Defined

In Texas, if a person intentionally or knowingly tampers with someone else's property without consent, they could be accused of criminal mischief. In the case of coughing on food, the subsection of Texas Penal Code 28.03 that may apply is (a)(2). It provides that an offense is committed when someone tampers with property, and they cause a financial loss to the owner or a third party.

If you cough on food, the store would have to throw that product out, losing out on income they could have made had they sold it.

Recently, a Texas man pleaded guilty to this offense. He was charged in 2019 not for coughing on food but for licking the top of a tub of ice cream and putting it back in the freezer.

Criminal mischief ranges from a Class C misdemeanor, which results in a $500 fine, to a first-degree felony, which is penalized by up to 99 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000. The level and degree of the charge levied depend on the amount of loss the owner or third party suffered.

Have you been accused of an assault or another crime in San Antonio? At LaHood Norton Law Group, our lawyers have over 70 years of combined experience and know how to effectively fight charges. Call us at (210) 801-9400 or contact us online today.