San Diego man files suit against fresh produce company in Salmonella outbreak

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A California man is seeking damages from Thomson International Inc. contending he was poisoned with Salmonella from the company’s onions. He is part of a multi-national outbreak that has sickened more than 500.

Keith Robert Willis, 58, bought and ate the implicated onions in June and fell ill on July 1, according to a civil complaint filed against the produce company in the Superior Court of California in San Diego. The San Diego health department confirmed Willis was part of the Salmonella Newport outbreak that has sickened 396 in the United States and 114 in Canada.

Willis seeks damages “in an amount that is fair and reasonable, for his costs incurred, and for any other relief to which he may be entitled. . .” according to the lawsuit. Willis suffered classic food poisoning symptoms and is still on antibiotics for his infection.

The red onions in question, plus yellow, white and sweet onions, have been recalled in Canada and the United States. They were distributed to all 50 U.S. states and are packaged under a variety of brands and sold at many retailers, including Walmart, Kroger and Food Lion.

Public health officials in both countries say traceback investigations showed a link between Thomson International’s red onions and the Salmonella Newport outbreak. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are working with the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency on the outbreak investigation.

“Building on this information, and on epidemiologic information on the U.S.  outbreak from CDC, the FDA’s traceback investigation was able to identify Thomson International Inc. as a likely source of contaminated red onions in the U.S. 

Thomson International, Inc. of Bakersfield, California is recalling red, Yellow, white, and sweet yellow onions shipped from May 1, 2020, through the present,” according to the civil complaint.

Among the counts cited in the complaint are strict liability, breach of warranty and negligence. 

“The defendant had a duty to properly supervise, train, and monitor its respective employees, and to ensure that its respective employees complied with all applicable statutes, laws, regulations, safety codes, and provisions pertaining to the manufacture, distribution, storage, and sale of similar food products. The defendant breached this duty and was therefore negligent,” according to the lawsuit.

Willis is represented by the Ventura, CA, law firm of Murphy and Murphy with co-counsel Marler Clark LLP of Seattle.

About Salmonella infections
Food contaminated with Salmonella bacteria does not usually look, smell, or taste spoiled. Anyone can become sick with a Salmonella infection. Infants, children, seniors, and people with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of serious illness because their immune systems are fragile, according to the CDC.

Anyone who has eaten any of the recalled onions and developed symptoms of Salmonella infection should seek medical attention. Sick people should tell their doctors about the possible exposure to Salmonella bacteria because special tests are necessary to diagnose salmonellosis. Salmonella infection symptoms can mimic other illnesses, frequently leading to misdiagnosis.

Symptoms of Salmonella infection can include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever within 12 to 72 hours after eating contaminated food. Otherwise, healthy adults are usually sick for four to seven days. In some cases, however, diarrhea may be so severe that patients require hospitalization.

Older adults, children, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems, such as cancer patients, are more likely to develop a severe illness and serious, sometimes life-threatening conditions.

Editor’s note: Bill Marler is publisher of Food Safety News.

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