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The nationwide Salmonella outbreak involving cucumbers has already generated two lawsuits against produce distributor Andrew & Williamson of San Diego, California. The first plaintiff claims she was hospitalized for more than a week after eating a tainted cucumber at a Minnesota Red Lobster. The same day, parents of a 9-year-old boy filed a lawsuit alleging their son became ill after eating a cucumber at a different Red Lobster, also in Minnesota. The child was not hospitalized, but did test positive for Salmonella Poona.

According to the CDC, as of September 8, 2015, 341 people infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella Poona have been reported from 30 states. Seventy people have been hospitalized, and two deaths have been reported – on in California and one in Texas. On September 3, Andrew and Williamson issued a voluntary recall of all cucumbers sold under its Limited Edition® label during the period from August 1, 2015 through September 3, 2015.

The cucumbers were grown in Baja, Mexico. Often referred to as a “Slicer” or American” cucumber, the company noted this variety is shipped in a black, green, and yellow colored carton which reads “Limited Edition Pole Grown Cucumbers.” In retail, such as Walmart and Safeway, it is typically is sold in a bulk display without any individual packaging or plastic wrapping. In restaurants, it is typically served as part of a salad. The cucumbers were also sold to restaurants, including Red Lobster. A spokesperson for Olive Garden said that while the restaurant chain does receive produce from Andrew and Williamson, it did not receive any of the contaminated cucumbers because Olive Garden does not use cucumbers in any of their menu items. The investigation is ongoing by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

This latest outbreak is not the first time cucumbers have been tied to foodborne illnesses and deaths. Last year, 275 people became ill from Salmonella Newport after eating cucumbers grown in Maryland. One person died in that outbreak. In 2013, Salmonella St. Paul sickened 84 people after they ate cucumbers imported from Mexico.

According to the FDA, most people infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most people recover without treatment. In some cases, diarrhea may be so severe that hospitalization is required. In these patients, the Salmonella infection may spread from the intestines to the blood stream, and then to other body sites. If not treated promptly, death may occur. Children are the most likely to get salmonellosis. Children younger than 5 years of age, the elderly, and those people with weakened immune systems are more likely to have severe infections.

Consumers with concerns should contact their grocer to determine if the cucumbers they purchased were affected by the recall. Anyone who thinks they may have become ill from eating possibly contaminated cucumbers should speak with their health care providers. The FDA also encourages consumers with questions about this outbreak or any food safety concerns to call 1-888-SAFEFOOD Monday through Friday between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Eastern time, or to consult

This kind of stuff is scary when you consider that there are approximately one million illnesses in the United States, with 19,000 hospitalizations and 380 deaths due to Salmonella, according to the CDC. A lawsuit sends a message that food safety should not come before corporate profit.  It may be the only way to hold the wrongdoers accountable. The work of lawyers nationwide have led to safer food and improved conditions at food processing plants. If you have been the victim of a food borne illness, you may wish to contact attorney about understanding your rights and filing a product liability lawsuit.

It is also important to remember that food safety is not limited to recalls. Food contamination happens every day, even in our homes. It is important to be mindful of some basic food safety tips.

  • Thaw meats completely in the refrigerator, not on the counter.
  • Wash hands and surfaces often.
  • Wash used cutting boards and utensils in hot, soapy water.
  • Separate raw meat, poultry, and eggs from cooked foods to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Cook raw meat, poultry, and eggs thoroughly. Partial cooking of food ahead of time allows bacteria to multiply to the point that subsequent cooking cannot destroy them
  • Use a food thermometer to check internal temperatures. Holding food at an unsafe temperature is a prime cause of food-borne illness.
  • Refrigerate food promptly.

Mark Bello is the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company.

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