A nationwide salmonella outbreak involving cucumbers has spawned its first lawsuits, both filed in Minnesota this weekend after two diners at Red Lobster got sick eating salads.
The outbreak, one of the largest U.S. salmonella occurrences in recent years, has sickened 285 people in 27 states. Twelve, six of whom were hospitalized, were in Minnesota. Nationwide, 53 people have been hospitalized, and one person in California has died from the salmonella strain known as Poona, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
The tainted cucumbers were grown in Mexico’s Baja California and imported by Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce of San Diego. Red Lobster is an Andrew & Williamson customer. The Orlando, Fla.-based chain pulled cucumbers from its restaurants Friday, and while the majority of cases nationwide don’t involve Red Lobster outlets, that’s not the case in Minnesota.
At least 10 of the 12 incidences in Minnesota were traced to cucumbers in salads at Red Lobster. The company has 12 restaurants in Minnesota.
Kathleen Dvergsten of Farmington ate a salad at Red Lobster in Maplewood on Aug. 11 and got sick the next day, eventually landing in a hospital for about a week, according to a lawsuit she filed Monday against Andrew & Williamson. The state Health Department confirmed she tested positive for the cucumber-related salmonella bug, according to the suit prepared by Seattle-based Marler Clark, which specializes in food safety litigation.
Also on Monday, Adam and Rebecca Junior sued Andrew & Williamson after their son allegedly got sick from a salad at the Oakdale Red Lobster, where he was attending his grandmother’s birthday party on Aug. 9. The child, who was not hospitalized, tested positive for Salmonella Poona, according to the suit filed by PritzkerOlsen, a Minneapolis law firm that’s also big in food safety cases. The Junior suit also named Red Lobster as a defendant.
Andrew & Williamson on Thursday recalled all cucumbers sold under its Limited Edition Label from Aug. 1 to Sept. 3, which were distributed nationwide to supermarket and restaurant chains.
Salmonella causes salmonellosis, which is marked by diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain and fever.
Salmonella outbreaks originate with fecal contamination of food, said Ted Labuza, a food science professor at the University of Minnesota. The source could be animals relieving themselves in fields, or exposure to water that’s been contaminated with feces, such as runoff from a nearby dairy or livestock operation.
The Salmonella Poona illnesses mark the third major cucumber-related salmonella outbreak in the past two years. Last year, 275 people got 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.
“It’s a little unclear at this point as to why we are seeing this uptick in cucumber salmonella cases,” said Bill Marler of Marler Clark. “My suspicion is that it’s tainted water.”