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Woman Suing for Peanut Butter Salmonella Poisoning

Sep 10, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP Denise Tate, a West Virginia woman who claims she contracted Salmonella poisoning after eating recalled peanut butter, filed a lawsuit against ConAgra on August 1 in Kanawha Circuit Court.  ConAgra is a national food manufacturer based in Nebraska, with several other plants located nationwide.  The company produces Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butters.

According to the suit, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recalled Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butter because of links to 288 confirmed cases of Salmonella poisoning in 39 states.  Tate claims she did not know the peanut butter was recalled.  According to the suit, food that contains Salmonella looks and smells normal and shows no signs on contamination.   On February 14, 2007, the FDA recalled Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butter jars with a product code beginning in "2111."  The manufacturing date on the recalled peanut butter ranged from August 3, 2005 to January 3, 2007.

An inspection of the ConAgra plant in Sylvester, Georgia, indicated a wide variety of conditions conducive to Salmonella contamination, such as multiple portals of entry for rodents and birds, over 100 rat traps, rodent tracks on raw peanuts in the roasting room, dead insects, a dead rodent, bird feathers, bird excrement, and significant roof damage and water leaks.

Salmonella can occur when food is improperly stored or handled and when preparers do not wash their hands or do not sanitize food preparation implements.  Salmonella is a common organism that lives in the intestines of warm-blooded animals, including birds, and that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems.  Healthy persons infected with Salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain and cramping within 12 to 72 hours of infection.  Laboratory testing is required to determine the presence of the salmonella bacteria; additional testing can determine the specific type and which antibiotics are needed.  Generally, the illness lasts a week and most recover without treatment; however, in some, hospitalization is required because the infection may have spread from the intestines to the blood stream and other body sites.

Tate claims she consumed a jar of peanut butter manufactured by ConAgra bearing the product code beginning in "2111," but was unaware it was contaminated.  Soon after, Tate began experiencing symptoms of salmonella poisoning--salmonellosis.  Tate also claims that ConAgra was negligent in manufacturing the peanut butter, and failed to warn of potentially hazardous or life-threatening conditions associated with the peanut butter.   She is seeking compensatory and punitive damages.

Without treatment—antibiotics—severe cases of Salmonella can result in death; however, some salmonella bacteria are resistant to antibiotics, largely due to the use of antibiotics to promote the growth of feed animals.  Some persons infected with salmonella poisoning will go on to develop pains in their joints, irritation of the eyes, and painful urination—a condition called Reiter's syndrome—which can last for months or years and can lead to chronic arthritis; antibiotic treatment does not make a difference in whether or not the person later develops arthritis.

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