Articles Posted in Contaminated Food

In February of this year, the medical device and consumer product manufacturing company Abbot Laboratories issued a voluntary recall after the FDA advised parents to stop feeding their young children certain brands of the company’s powdered baby formulas. According to a recent report by CNN, the affected brands initially included Similac, Alimentum, and EleCare. However, a few weeks later, the company then added Similac 60/40 to the list of recalled baby formulas.

The reason why the FDA issued the warning to parents earlier this year stems from several reports that young infants who consumed these products got very sick. In fact, there are at least two cases where babies died after consuming Abbott Labs baby formulas. Both of the babies died after developing an unusual infection resulting from exposure to the Cronobacter sakazakii bacteria.

What Is Cronobacter sakazakii?

Cronobacter sakazakii is a dangerous bacteria that can cause healthy adults to suffer from excruciating stomach pains and diarrhea. However, when a young infant is exposed to Cronobacter sakazakii, it can be fatal or lead to long-term health risks.

Toward the end of last year, a jury in Ohio reached a verdict in a case involving a man who had developed testicular cancer after drinking water that was contaminated by a DuPont plant nearby. According to an industry news source, the plaintiff lives near the Ohio-West Virginia border in Washington County, where it became apparent several years ago back that the DuPont facility was leaking perfluorooctanoic acid, also known as PFOA or C-8, into the area’s drinking water supply.

After a jury trial, the plaintiff was awarded $2 million for his injuries. Additionally, the report indicates that the jury found “actual malice,” meaning that punitive damages may also be awarded if the jury decides they are appropriate. The punitive damages phase of the trial is slated to move forward later this year. If the plaintiff is successful in obtaining punitive damages against DuPont, it is likely that his award would increase substantially.

This case is the third of its kind holding DuPont responsible for contaminated water in Washington County, Ohio. The other two cases, decided in 2015 and 2016, resulted in $1.6 million and $5.6 million, respectively. The $5.6 million award contained $500,000 in punitive damages. There are 39 more similar cases pending in the Ohio court system.

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A former executive of a peanut company was recently sentenced to 28 years in prison for his role in distributing tainted peanut butter back in 2008 and 2009 that made dozens of people seriously ill and killed several others. According to one industry news source reporting on the criminal case, this marked the first time that an executive was prosecuted criminally in a food poisoning case.

Evidently, the prosecution submitted evidence that the executive signed off on shipments of peanut butter that he knew to be tainted. He also submitted fraudulent lab tests, claiming that the product had been tested for salmonella. When investigators conducted an inspection of the facility, they discovered leaking roofs, cockroaches, and evidence of a rodent infestation.

Establishing Civil Liability After a Criminal Prosecution

While the case discussed above was a criminal prosecution, it may have laid the groundwork for the families who were affected by the tainted peanut butter to seek financial compensation through a civil lawsuit. Manufacturers of all products, including food, assume a duty to ensure that the products they sell are reasonably safe. When a product causes an injury to a customer, or tainted food is consumed and results in an illness, the manufacturer may be held liable.

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Organic food choices have come to be seen by some as a healthier, more eco-friendly way to eat. However, it would be incorrect to believe that food is safe to eat merely because it has been certified as organic. In fact, according to one recent New York Times article, the amount of organic food that has been recalled because it is not safe to consume has more than tripled since last year. The Organic Trade Association takes issue with these numbers and counters that, according to their data, the percentage of recalled organic food accounts for about 4.9% of all recalled food products.

According to the article, thus far in 2015 organic food has accounted for approximately 7 percent of all recalls. Last year that figure was just 2 percent of the total number of recalls. In 2012 and 2013, respectively, the figures were just one percent.

Why the Increase in Recalled Organic Food Products?

One of the reasons cited by experts for the increase in recalled organic food products is that organic food has become much more prevalent in American diets over the past few years. In fact, since 2012, there has been an increase of 25% in the total amount of organic food sold in the United States.

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Earlier this month, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service announced a recall of over 15,000 pounds of ground beef produced by the Tyson Fresh Meat Company. According to one industry report, the recalled meat was all shipped to one central distribution center in New York. It is not clear at this point where the contaminated meat went from there.

Evidently, the contaminated meat bears a “best before or freeze by” date of June 15. The meat was packaged as 5lb. chubs, meaning large sausage-like packages of meat most commonly used in restaurants or institutional settings.

The USDA discovered the contamination  through a routine inspection, and no one has reported any illnesses relating to the contaminated meat. The agency’s concern is that consumers bought the bulk meat for future use and have it stored in their freezers. Those who may have purchased the contaminated meat should call Tyson directly or return it to the store from which it was purchased.

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Roughly one month ago, several organic food companies instituted voluntary recalls after it came to light that some of their products may have contained spinach that was contaminated with the listeria bacteria. According to an article by USA Today, the listeria concerns continue, this time over Blue Bell ice cream.

The Texas-based creamery recently recalled its entire product line after discovering contaminated ice cream originating from its Brenham, Texas plant as well as its Broken Arrow, Oklahoma plant. The company told reporters that they discovered several half-gallon containers of cookie dough ice cream had been contaminated with the dangerous listeria bacteria.

Blue Bell ships its products across the country. The following states are all included in the recall:  Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Wyoming, Missouri, Nevada, and New Mexico. The manufacture dates of the contaminated product are March 17 and March 27.

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Earlier last year, the family of an elderly couple who died as a result of eating tainted meatloaf sued the restaurant where the couple ordered their final meal. According to a report by one local news source, the couple ordered the takeout meatloaf dinner from a West Virginia Bob Evan’s restaurant.

Evidently, back in October 2012 the couple ordered a take out meatloaf and hours later became “violently ill.” The emergency room staff confirmed that the couple “suffered from food poising from consuming the tainted meal from Bob Evans.”

Both husband and wife were moved to a rehabilitation facility after the husband suffered a stroke just two days after falling ill. After another two months, the woman died while in the rehabilitation facility. Her husband died a few months later. The lawsuit filed by their children allege that their declining condition, ultimately resulting in their early death, was caused by the tainted meatloaf they consumed at the Bob Evan’s restaurant.

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Earlier this month, a high-end kitchen product retailer announced that it was recalling a large batch of potentially tainted food that was for sale across the country in its retail stores. According to a report by one local news source, the manufacturer of the product, California Olive and Wine, decided to recall thousands of jars of Pumpkin Seed Pesto.

Evidently, the pesto may have been improperly packaged, leading to the possibility that the bacteria causing botulism may be present in the sauce. This was discovered after there were irregular lab test results that came back when the product was tested. The pesto sauce was available for purchase in Williams Sonoma stores across the country from September 2014 until mid-October. The FDA released its announcement of the company’s voluntary recall on October 10, 2014. The contaminated product, which was sold in eight-ounce jars, bears the SKUs 6404305, 6389043.

Thankfully, there have been no reports of serious illness or death stemming from the contaminated food product. However, since botulism is a very serious and dangerous bacteria, anyone who has purchased any of this product should return it to the retailer for a full refund.

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Earlier last month, a federal jury found that a peanut plant owner, as well as two top executives, were guilty of conspiracy and fraud in relation to a salmonella outbreak that was caused by contaminated peanut butter. However, according to a report by one news source, the jury did not get to hear that the salmonella outbreak not only caused many to become ill, but also caused nine deaths.

According to the news report, the jury was not able to hear about the deaths because they were not relevant to the charges that were filed against the peanut plant owner and executives. While the federal prosecutors could have charged involuntary manslaughter, which would have allowed the evidence of the deaths to be presented at trial, they chose not to because they felt that there was a stronger case with just the conspiracy and fraud charges.

However, those who lost family members will be permitted to testify at the sentencing hearing for the defendants.

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