September 15, 2019

Safeway Sued in Wrongful Death Lawsuit Linked to Caramel Apple Listeria Outbreak

The family of an 81-year-old California woman who died after contracting listeriosis from a caramel apple has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Safeway grocery stores. Shirlee Jean Frey purchased the tainted treat from a Safeway store just before Halloween and began to feel illl the first week of November.

Caramel ApplesSymptoms of a Listeria infection include fever, muscle aches, headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions. Among pregnant women, listeriosis can lead to miscarriage or stillbirth, premature delivery, or infection of the newborn baby. Symptoms begin from 3 to 70 days after eating food contaminated with the bacteria.

In early November, Frey fell and hit her head. She was airlifted to a hospital for surgery and remained there for a week, according to the complaint. After she was released, her condition, which had seemed to be improving, began to decline. On Thanksgiving, when she could not be woken, she was readmitted to the hospital where doctors determined she had a Listeria infection. She died December 2.

Her death is one of five that have been linked to a 10-state outbreak that has sickened 29 people. Three of those sickened are children under 15 who developed Listeria meningitis, nine of the illnesses were linked to pregnancy including three newborns who were delivered prematurely with Listeria and a dozen of the cases were diagnosed in people over the age of 64, like Shirlee Jean Frey.

“This outbreak is a tragedy, a preventable tragedy,” said Fred Pritzker, a food safety attorney who represents clients who have been sickened by contaminated food. “Every food processor should be aware of the dangers of Listeria and take steps to prevent it.”

Safeway said in a statement to the Seattle Times that it has removed all pre-packaged, commercially produced caramel apples form its stores but that it is “currently not aware of any illness tied to items purchased at our stores.”

A recall has not been issued for the apples. Minnesota, the first state to report Listeria illnesses linked to caramel apples, is the only state to report brand names of apples and the stores where they were sold. Cub Foods, Kwik Trip, and Mike’s Discount Foods carried Carnival brand and Kitchen Cravings brand caramel apples seasonally, but they are no longer being sold at stores. Four cases were reported in Minnesota, two of which were fatal.

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