Family of Minnesota Salmonella Victim to Sue Peanut Butter Firms

January 20, 2009

The family of a woman who died after contracting salmonella plans a lawsuit against the companies that made and distributed peanut butter blamed in a recent outbreak, an attorney said.

Shirley Mae Almer, 72, died Dec. 21 after eating contaminated peanut butter at Good Samaritan Society-Bethany, the Brainerd nursing home where she lived, attorney Fred Pritzker said.

Pritzker said he was preparing a complaint that would name Peanut Corp. of America and King Nut Cos., the maker and distributor of peanut butter that has been recalled in the outbreak. More than 430 people in 43 states have been sickened.

“She was the canary in the coal mine,” Pritzker said of Almer. He said the nursing home was where the Minnesota Health Department first found the contaminated peanut butter.

Peanut Corp. said in a statement it knew nothing about a lawsuit and declined comment. An executive for King Nut didn’t immediately return a phone message. Minnesota health officials and the nursing home’s administrator also did not immediately return phone messages.

Five deaths have been linked to the outbreak, including two in Minnesota, two in Virginia and one in Idaho. The causes of death haven’t been determined. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the outbreak may have contributed.

Almer, a Perham native, was recovering from cancer at the time she became ill, Pritzker said.

Lynchburg, Va.-based Peanut Corp. has recalled 21 lots of peanut butter made since July 1 at its plant in Blakely, Ga., for distribution to institutions, food service industries and private label food companies. That followed an earlier recall by Solon, Ohio-based King Nut, which distributed some of the product in seven states.

Last Wednesday, Kellogg Co. asked stores to stop selling its peanut butter sandwich crackers until the company could determine if the peanut paste was contaminated. Peanut Corp. supplies some of the paste. Kellogg stressed that it hadn’t found problems or gotten any complaints.

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