Imagine you’ve been hit by what feels like a nasty stomach flu. You feel nauseous, develop diarrhea, and spike a fever. Your body aches all over. You feel miserable. You haven’t heard about anything going around until you learn that a friend is battling a similar illness. You and the friend shared a meal (or even just a snack) a few days prior. The culprit may be listeria, a potentially deadly foodborne illness making headlines recently. While symptoms can sometimes pass quickly, listeria can lead to life-threatening complications. Listeria in particular is a major threat to an unborn baby if a pregnant woman is exposed. Our Oakland foodborne illness attorney, Greg Brod, works to help victims of tainted foods recover compensation and obtain justice. Attorney Brod and our firm’s clients also work to protect our nation’s food supply against future outbreaks by holding companies responsible for their products.
Massive Blue Bell Recall Tied to Listeria
On Monday, Blue Bell Creameries took an unusual step and recalled all of the company’s products from stores and food service establishments nationwide. According to CNN, the recall follows weeks of narrower recalls linked to concerns the company’s frozen treats might be contaminated with listeria. Blue Bell representatives say it is unclear how the bacteria was introduced, but note that products sold in different states and produced in different plants have tested positive for listeria. Current tests in Oklahoma revealed a strain of listeria nearly identical to that involved in an outbreak in Texas as far back as 2011.
Health official say three deaths and five other illnesses have been linked to listeria. The officials say Blue Bell’s products may be to blame. In a case of cruel irony, five of the sickened individuals had been treated at a Kansas hospital for unrelated ailments and at least four had consumed milkshakes made at the hospital using Blue Bell ice cream.
Blue Bell is not the only company facing a Listeria problem. Earlier this month, the Oakland Tribune carried an Associated Press article that reported the recall of approximately 30,000 cases of hummus. The recalled hummus was manufactured by The Sabra Dipping Co., a joint venture by the Strauss Group and PepsiCo. Although officials are concerned the hummus may be tainted with Listeria, there have not been any reports of illness linked to the products.
Son of Listeria Victim Fights back
Listeria can be deadly. This week, ABC reported on the emotional, regulatory, and legal fall-out of a deadly listeria outbreak last fall. Eighty-one year-old Shirley Frey was one of seven people who died from listeria believed to have originated in an apple-packing plant in Bakersfield, California. A total of 35 people in 12 states fell ill during the outbreak.
Frey’s son says he is committed to preventing future outbreaks and saving other families from heartbreak. Brad Frey is expected to testify this week at a hearing in Washington, D.C. examining the implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act (“FSMA”). The FSMA, signed into law by President Obama, attempts to institute a more preventative approach to food safety. Prior to the FSMA, the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) took a reactive approach and only responded after someone was sickened by foodborne bacteria. Notably, it can be several weeks before someone who has been exposed to listeria becomes ill which means a reactive approach puts the FDA far behind and gives the bacteria the upper-hand. Frey’s son is also pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit. As he told reporters, his mother had been conscious of food safety but consumers can only do so much and strong food safety rules are critical to the fight against foodborne illness.
Ensuring a Safe Food Supply
Civil suits involving foodborne illnesses, including both personal injury and wrongful death claims, often rest on a product liability theory. Product liability law holds companies responsible for the products they manufacture and/or sell. These claims may involve allegations of a manufacturing or design defect or can involve a claim that the company failed to provide adequate warnings/instructions. In most cases, product liability involves a strict liability rule which means the plaintiff does not need to prove the company was negligent. However, there can also be traditional negligence claims in addition to the strict liability allegations.
As a food poisoning law firm San Francisco, Oakland, and Santa Rosa, the Brod Law Firm is available to help victims of food-related illness throughout Northern California. Please call to schedule a free consultation with our skilled product liability attorney.
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(Photo by Johnny Hunter)