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Poppe Law Firm® Files First Lawsuit in Nation Over Contaminated Melons.

Louisville salmonella patient sues Kroger, Caito Foods over precut melon

Billy Kobin, Louisville Courier Journal

Published 10:30 a.m. ET April 16, 2019 | Updated 3:19 p.m. ET April 16, 2019

A Louisville woman has filed the first federal lawsuit in connection with the multistate salmonella outbreak linked to precut melon.

The complaint filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Louisville alleges the 50-year-old woman ate precut melon tainted with salmonella. The tainted melon was packaged by Caito Foods and sold at Kroger, according to the complaint.

She became ill after eating the melon and was hospitalized, the complaint says.

The woman was diagnosed with salmonella and later learned her illness was part of the multistate outbreak, according to the complaint.

Jory Lange, a national food safety attorney who is representing the woman along with Louisville attorney Hans Poppe, told the Courier Journal the woman has since been released from the hospital.

“She thought she was going to die for a couple days there,” Lange said. “She fortunately made it through, but this was pretty traumatic.”

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The lawsuit names Caito Foods and Kroger as defendants and asks for compensation related to medical expenses and lost time from work.

A spokeswoman for Kroger did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

A spokeswoman for SpartanNash, the parent company of Caito Foods, said the company does not comment on pending litigation but referred to a statement issued by Caito Foods following the voluntary recall.

“Caito Foods takes food safety seriously and is committed to following strict procedures regarding product handling and the cleaning and maintenance of our facilities to deliver the high quality products our customers have come to expect for more than 50 years,” the statement said. “… We continue to cooperate fully with the regulatory agencies on this matter, including their request to help determine the farm where the fruit was grown.”

The multistate salmonella outbreak linked to several fresh-cut melon products has sickened nearly three dozen people in Kentucky and Indiana, according to federal data.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 16 people in Kentucky and 18 people in Indiana were infected with the strain of Salmonella Carrau as of April 12. 

That’s when Indianapolis-based Caito Foods recalled fresh-cut watermelon, honeydew melon, cantaloupe and mixed fruit containing those melons.

The fruit products were distributed in 16 states and have been linked with 93 salmonella cases in nine states, according to the CDC.

The recalled fruit items were sold at Kroger and Trader Joe’s locations in Kentucky and Indiana, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Walmart stores in Indiana also sold the fruit.

Target and Whole Foods locations in other states also had the recalled items, the FDA said.

As of April 12, the CDC said 23 of the 53 people with information available on their cases had been hospitalized, but no deaths had been reported.

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Illnesses started cropping up between March 4 and March 31, with most of the cases involving adults over the age of 50. The CDC said the ill people range in age from less than 1 to 98 years old.

Seventy-seven percent of ill people who were interviewed reported eating precut melons purchased from groceries, according to the CDC.

Federal officials said evidence indicates precut melon sold by Caito Foods is the likely source of the multistate outbreak.

Impacted products are sold in packages as small as 4.5 ounces or as large as 80 ounces, according to the FDA.

Product use-by dates are as late as April 19, and the FDA said it is possible the products are still on store shelves.

As a result, the FDA said consumers should quickly dispose of any recalled products they may have.

For a full list of recalled products, visit the FDA website.

Lange said his firm also filed lawsuits after Caito Foods recalled precut melon products last summer following a similar salmonella outbreak.

Salmonella Carrau is an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, the frail or elderly and others with weakened immune systems, the FDA says.

Symptoms include diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps, and they usually develop 12 to 72 hours after eating a contaminated product, according to the CDC.

The illness usually lasts four to seven days, and most people recover without treatment, but some severe cases require hospitalization, the CDC says.

The investigation into the outbreak is ongoing. 

USA TODAY contributed to this story. Reach Billy Kobin at bkobin@courierjournal.com or 502-582-7030.

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