Cargill Sued Over Salmonella-Contaminated Turkey

By Jonathan Stempel | August 17, 2011

A Cargill Inc unit is being sued by an Oregon family who said their young daughter was hospitalized after eating Salmonella-contaminated turkey, the subject of one of the largest U.S. meat recalls ever.

The lawsuit is one of the first against Cargill since the meat processor recalled 36 million pounds of fresh and frozen ground turkey products on Aug. 3 because of possible contamination from an antibiotic-resistant Salmonella strain.

That strain is linked to one death in California and more than 100 illnesses in more than 30 U.S. states.

According to the complaint, Ruby Jane Lee was 10 months old in early June when she ate Salmonella Heidelberg-contaminated ground turkey produced by Cargill Meat Solutions Corp, as part of a spaghetti and meatballs dinner prepared by her father.

Lee suffered from diarrhea and a high fever and was hospitalized for one week after the bacteria entered her bloodstream, the complaint said. She was later discharged.

The lawsuit filed in an Oregon federal court seeks unspecified damages for pain and suffering, medical costs, emotional distress and the parents’ lost wages.

“Cargill has had a decade of outbreaks and recalls involving Salmonella and E.coli” bacteria,” Bill Marler, a Seattle lawyer specializing in food poisoning cases who represents the Lee family, said in an interview. “Cargill’s track record is not very positive.”

Marler said he has filed other lawsuits against Cargill. He represents about one dozen people sickened by the latest strain and plans to file additional lawsuits.

Cargill spokesman Mike Martin said the Wichita, Kansas-based company has improved its procedures to ensure food safety, a top priority, and to thwart bacteria development.

“For anyone who may have become ill from eating ground turkey produced by Cargill, we are sorry,” he said.

The recalled products were made at a Springdale, Arkansas plant and included such brands as Honeysuckle White, Shady Brook Farms, Kroger and Safeway.

Salmonella infection is the most common U.S. food-borne illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said one in six Americans gets sick from contaminated food each year.

The case is Lee et al. v. Cargill Meat Solutions Corp, U.S. District Court, District of Oregon.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel; additional reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; editing by Andre Grenon)

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