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Troutdale family sues over food poisoning

Cargill recalls 36 million pounds of fresh, frozen ground turkey

A Troutdale family has filed a lawsuit against Cargill Meat Solutions, a major U.S. meat processor, alleging that their then 10-month-old daughter became seriously ill with an antibiotic-resistant salmonella after she ate ground turkey produced by the company.

The lawsuit - filed Monday, Aug. 15, in Oregon's U.S. District Court by the Seattle law firm Marler Clark - alleges that Ruby Jane Lee developed severe diarrhea and a high fever after eating the meat, which was in a meal prepared by her father.

It was later discovered that she had Salmonella Heidelberg, a strain resistant to most antibiotics, and had to be hospitalized for seven days at Doernbecher Children's Hospital.

Ruby's parents, Melissa Lee and Brandon Mullen-Bagby, are seeking damages to cover expenses for general pain and suffering, medical expenses, travel expenses and other related expenses that have arisen or may arise.

The family's attorney, Bill Marler, said the lawsuit also covers food suppliers and other businesses that may be involved. He said a jury will determine how much money the family should receive if it wins the case.

Ruby, who turned 1 in early August, is one of 107 people in 31 states who were infected with Salmonella Heidelberg. So far, she is the only confirmed case in Oregon.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the people range in age from less than 1 year to 88 years old, with a median age of 23 years old. Forty-eight percent are female. Among the 58 ill people with available information, 22 were hospitalized. A 65-year-old woman in California reportedly died from the outbreak.

Marler, who has litigated about half a dozen food-borne illness cases against Kansas-based Cargill, said 11 people in 11 states also have contacted him about the outbreak.

Marler said Salmonella Heidelberg accounts for a distant third of salmonella cases in the United States at just 5 percent, but it's one of the few strains that have a high resistance to most antibiotics, requiring stronger medications, such as Cipro to treat. He added Ruby will have to be monitored to make sure she doesn't develop additional health issues.

'Cargill needs to step up and start testing for these bugs more frequently,' Marler said. 'When they find it, they need to divert that to further processing, such as more cooking or other forms of rendering.'

On Aug. 3, Cargill recalled 36 million pounds of fresh and frozen ground turkey, produced between between Feb. 20 and Aug. 2, after it was linked to the outbreak of salmonella, the largest Class 1 U.S. Department of Agriculture recall to date.

The recalled products all had 'Est. P-963' on the label. The brands include Honeysuckle White, Riverside, Kroger, Safeway Fresh, Shady Brook Farms and Giant Eagle. A complete list of the recalled products can be found at Cargill.com under 'News releases' for 2011.

Cargill also suspended production of ground turkey products at its Springdale, Ark., processing facility where the ground turkey was produced.

Mike Martin, a spokesman for Cargill, said he was aware of one other lawsuit related to the outbreak that was filed against Cargill on Friday, Aug. 5, in Arkansas by an Arizona man.

'We're certainly relieved that (Ruby) has recovered and we're sorry she had to go through what she went through,' Martin said, 'but beyond that, the lawsuit and litigation will play out in court.'

Martin said the company didn't know the origin of the Salmonella Heidelberg strain in the turkeys at the Arkansas facility. He said Cargill has instituted a safety plan, approved by the Department of Agriculture, and has a panel of third-party experts to assess and review the new safety measures.

Martin said the facility last week started producing the turkey products that were not recalled and a limited production of 93-percent lean ground turkey, which was part of the recall.

'We're always reviewing our food safety efforts, and we'll do what is appropriate for ensuring food safety,' he said.