Lawsuit filed against Dole in outbreak linked to Springfield

The Springfield News-Sun has provided unmatched coverage of a recent investigation into an outbreak of listeriosis that has been linked to salad mixes packaged at Dole’s facility in Springfield. The paper will continue to update the case as it moves forward.

A Warren County woman has filed a federal lawsuit against Dole, claiming her mother was left in a coma after eating salad tainted with listeria from the company’s Springfield plant.

Dole Fresh Vegetables officials declined to comment late Monday afternoon, citing the pending litigation. The company also declined to provide further updates about their investigation into the outbreak or if and when the Springfield facility might re-open.

Constance Georgostathis is seeking damages after her mother, Kiki Christofield, bought a Dole Salad mix at an Ohio Kroger store in late January and became ill, the lawsuit says.

The complaint argues the packaged salad was defective because it contained listeria. It also argues Dole was negligent, violated the Ohio Consumer Sales Practices Act and the Pure Food and Drug Law of Ohio, which sets standards for the manufacture and sale of food.

Bill Marler, a Seattle attorney who’s representing the family, said he isn’t aware of any similar suits filed in relation to the outbreak.

“Listeria in bagged salad is pretty unusual,” Marler said. “One of the things we’re seeing a lot more of is it has partly to do with there are a lot more people who are immune-compromised and people who are elderly, and that’s unfortunately what listeria targets.”

At least 18 people in the U.S. have been sickened in a listeriosis outbreak linked to Dole’s Springfield processing plant, which was closed after the according to information from the Centers for Disease Control. All 18 people have been hospitalized, including one person from Michigan who died.

The Public Health Agency of Canada has also reported 11 cases in five provinces, including three deaths. However, it hasn’t been determined if listeria contributed to the cause of those deaths.

The CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration didn’t provide further updates requested Monday.

Christofield ate the salad and began to feel sick. By Jan. 26, she was experiencing, “extreme head and neck pain, confusion and an altered mental state,” according to court documents.

Christofield, of Hamilton County, was taken by ambulance to Bethesda North Hospital near Cincinnati, where she was treated with painkillers and discharged, according to the complaint. But her condition worsened, and on Jan. 31 she was taken back to the hospital, where she went into a coma and remains hospitalized.

Her condition has improved slightly in recent days, attorney Marler said. Christofield has been able to open her eyes and shake or nod her head, although she is still unable to move her legs.

The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.

Listeria is a food-borne bacteria typically found in raw vegetables and meats, as well as some soft cheeses. About 1,600 illnesses and 260 deaths due to listeriosis occur annually in the U.S., according to the CDC.

Lab tests performed by the Ohio Department of Health linked the outbreak to packaged salads produced in Springfield.

The federal lawsuit also cites several other cases stretching back to 2005 in which Dole products from a variety of plants have been connected to food-borne outbreaks or in which the company voluntarily recalled a product due to health concerns.

Of those, the most serious was a 2006 outbreak of E. coli, the lawsuit says, which was tied to Dole baby spinach and sold under several brand names from a California processing center. That outbreak caused at least 205 illnesses and led to five deaths, according to the complaint.

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