The law firm of Pritzker Olsen has filed the first lawsuit in federal court against Whole Foods on behalf of John McKissick and his wife Patricia. Mr. McKissick was sickened in the Listeria monocytogenes outbreak linked to Frescolina brand ricotta salata cheese imported by Forever Cheese Inc. and sold at Whole Foods stores.
Mrs. McKissick purchased a variety of cheeses on May 27, 2012 at one of the Whole Foods stores in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Mr. McKissick consumed a portion of each of the cheeses in the following days. Several days later, he began experiencing listeriosis symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, muscle aches, and fever. He was hospitalized when the symptoms worsened. A spinal tap confirmed that his illness was caused by Listeria monocytogenes. A sample was sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which determined that the PFGE pattern of the bacteria was the outbreak strain. Mr. McKissick suffered “profound nervous-system and cognitive dysfunction, including ventilator-dependent respiratory failure,” according to the Complaint.
The CDC, FDA, and state health departments found the outbreak strain of the bacteria in a sample from an uncut wheel of Frescolina ricotta salata cheese that was imported and distributed by Forever cheese. The recalled cheese was cut and repackaged by Whole Foods and sold in 21 states and Washington D.C. The Complaint states that Whole Foods processed the adulterated ricotta salata cheese and “cross-contaminated other cheese products sold in Whole Foods stores with the outbreak strain.”
Attorney Fred Pritzker said, “this is a complicated national outbreak that raises a number of important questions: when, where, and how did this pasteurized cheese become contaminated by Listeria monocytogenes and how did cross contamination spread it to cheeses other than the recalled product?” He continued, “it certainly appears there is plenty of fault to go around in this case. Cross-contamination by others in the chain of distribution caused this adulteration to be spread to other cheeses. Consumers have a right to purchase cheese that is safe and free of pathogens that cause serious injury and death.”