Lauren Minto says her 20-month-old son, CJ, began to show symptoms of salmonella poisoning several weeks ago. Her first clue – a 103.2 degree fever.
“We didn’t know what was going on so we gave him Tylenol and got the fever down to 100 degrees,” she tells IB News. They thought the problem was taken care of but the little boy’s fever spiked again and his mother says she can’t forget what she saw.
“We were in the kitchen making muffins and he went to get the tins and suddenly, it was horrible coming down his pant leg, it wouldn’t stop.”
Minto, of Mobile, Alabama, says her son had diarrhea for about two weeks with episodes every 45 minutes. Then the vomiting started and she watched her son alternate between diarrhea and vomiting. A visit to the doctors' confirmed he was suffering the effects of salmonella poisoning.
“They did blood work and found the bacteria and said it was related to the crackers. The Austin brand crackers, we get them at Wal-Mart because they’re cheap. I pack them in my husband’s lunch every week.”
Lauren’s husband and mother-in-law also got sick with similar symptoms, but recovered after four days. Half of the victims who have been sickened from a nationwide salmonella outbreak have been children. Besides an immature immune systems, children are the most likely to consume peanuts and peanut products.
The first round of antibiotics given CJ had side effects, but a second antibiotic seemed to work. CJ continued to have diarrhea, but at least he had his appetite back, his mother says, after going about a week without eating.
“The doctor said it was good that he still drank. He got really skinny, was pale and had circles under his eyes. It was heartbreaking.”
The Minto family is one of the first to file a negligence and product liability lawsuit against Peanut Corporation of America and the Keebler Company, maker of Austin brand crackers.
Atlanta attorney C. Andrew Childers of Childlers, Buck, and Schlueter L.L.P (and an IB member) is representing the family and four others around the country in individual cases in state court in Georgia.
“We will argue the Georgia law has to apply to all cases because the company is located here. We have a good strong food liability law in Georgia that says if someone knowingly or negligently serves food that is contaminated, they should be liable to the injured party,” he tells IB News.
Childers says it's the same law that applied in the ConAgra peanut butter recall for contamination with salmonella two years ago, when they represented several plaintiffs.
The Blakely, Georgia plant is at the center of a nationwide peanut recall that has sickened 529 people to date in 43 states. Salmonella is linked, though not conclusively to eight deaths.
Recent FDA reports reveal that salmonella was found during multiple inspections in January. PCA had previously sent out samples to independent labs for salmonella testing, but one lab director says she didn’t know the plant had already come up positive for salmonella.
PCA then got a clean bill of health and shipped the product nationwide.
“If you have a big batch of peanut butter, there will not be salmonella in every sample. They knew and still sent it out,” Andrew Childers says. Instead, the company should have dumped the questionable product and conducted a plant-wide cleaning, he says.
The fact that they didn’t might influence a jury in the punitive stage of a trial. “Their conduct was absolutely punitive,’ he says.
Keebler will also be named in the action, to be filed when the medical records of plaintiffs are retrieved, because that company too has a responsibility ensure its suppliers are doing due diligence in testing and producing a clean product, according to the attorney.
Lauren Minto says she’s relieved her 20-month old is slowly recovering, running around, and laughing. For her the trauma is over, though not the memory. What does she hope will result from a lawsuit?
Primarily Minto says she wants the public to know, and she wants the company and CEO to learn a lesson.
“I’d love for them to see the faces of the people they could hurt. I would ask him what they hell they were thinking when they did that? I would hope they would get on their knees and be asking for forgiveness, because they’re going to need it.” #