First Wrongful Death Suit Filed in Current Foodborne Illness Outbreak

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First Wrongful Death Suit Filed in Current Foodborne Illness Outbreak

A lawsuit filed this week in Hennepin County District Court in Minneapolis is the first wrongful death claim against Virginia-based Peanut Corp. of America (PCA), a manufacturer of bulk peanut butter and peanut paste whose Blakely, Ga. facility was identified as the source of the outbreak was FDA. Distributor King Nut Cos. was named as a defendant as well.

Filed by Fred Pritzker, founder and president of Minneapolis-based national food safety law firm Pritzker | Olsen, P.A., the suit alleges that Shirley Mae Almer, a 72-year-old Minnesota resident, died as "a direct result of" consuming peanut butter delivered to the nursing home in Brainerd, Minn. where she was temporarily staying.

According to the suit, at the time of her Dec. 21 death, Almer was infected with Salmonella Typhimurium, the same strain of salmonella that has sickened over 500 other people and killed eight in 43 states. Days later, the Minnesota departments of health and agriculture traced the problem to a five-pound pail of King Nut creamy peanut butter that had been in use at the nursing home. PCA issued a recall Jan. 13, and other companies that manufacture products containing peanut butter supplied by Lynchburg, Va.-based PCA, including Kellogg and General Mills, as well as grocers such as Kroger, Safeway, and Meijer, have followed suit.

"This is a very large and significant recall," said Pritzker. "It points to a number of vulnerabilities in our food safety system that require legislation and funding to correct. Consumers should feel concerned and demand a significant overhaul."

The complaint alleges that PCA and Solon, Ohio-based King Nut were negligent for failing to train and properly supervise peanut butter production workers and other employees; safely produce, store and transport products; maintain sanitary conditions during and after production; prevent cross-contamination; and properly test products, in addition to other acts of negligence.

The suit further makes a claim for damages under the doctrine of strict liability.

Pritzker referred to Almer was the "canary in a coal mine" whose death helped lead authorities to the Blakely plant.

Last week a Vermont couple filed suit against PCA, alleging that their seven-year-old son become ill late last year after eating tainted Keebler Cheese & Peanut Butter Sandwich crackers.

In related news, the American Peanut Council (APC) has vowed to work with FDA and other food safety regulators in the wake of a devastating agency report that says PCA knowingly released a product with potential salmonella contamination into the food supply.

"The findings of the FDA report can only be seen as a clear and unconscionable action of one irresponsible manufacturer, which stands alone in an industry that strives to follow the most stringent food safety standards," said APC president Patrick Archer. "The American peanut industry's top priority is the health and safety of consumers....[PCA's] apparent failure to follow food safety regulations must be condemned in the strongest possible terms."

Alexandria, Va.-based APC is a voluntary private trade association that represents all segments of the American peanut industry.