GREENWOOD, Ind. - A lawsuit was filed against Wal-Mart Stores last week on behalf of a customer who became ill with salmonella after consuming ham and cheese purchased at its store here.
The store's deli and bakery departments were the source of at least 140 cases of salmonella in two Indiana counties between May and August, according to the Indiana State Department of Health, Indianapolis.
"Wal-Mart acted quickly as soon as the Indiana State Department of Health contacted us," said John Simley, spokesman for Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart. "As an extra precaution we closed our deli and bakery departments that evening [Aug. 25] and brought in an outside company to perform a deep cleaning. All the prepared foods were discarded. Customers can be confident that our food has been safe for the last two weeks. The safety of our customers and associates is our No. 1 priority."
"We believe food handlers who didn't have any symptoms may have contaminated the deli and bakery products," said Lynae Granzow, the health department's enteric epidemiologist, in a statement. "This is a rare occurrence, and we are confident that Wal-Mart has properly addressed the situation by moving the
Health officials said shoppers shouldn't be concerned about buying food from these departments in the future, but those who purchased ready-to-eat items at the deli and bakery areas of the store on or before Aug. 25 should either throw those items away or return them to the store for a refund.
The recent suit was filed in Johnson County Superior Court in Indiana, on behalf of Greenwood resident Ryan Merritt, whose son became ill and was hospitalized after consuming food purchased from the store's deli department on Aug. 13, according to the Seattle-
Merritt's young son Noah consumed the ham and cheese days after its purchase and became sick on Aug. 18. The suit alleges his symptoms became severe on Aug. 20 and he was brought to the emergency room on Aug. 22, admitted, and released from the hospital on Aug. 24.
The firm is representing 18 shoppers who became infected, but this has been its only lawsuit issued thus far. One of the victims Marler Clark is representing suffered acute kidney failure stemming from severe dehydration. Marler Clark is seeking unspecified damages for wage loss, medical expenses, future medical expenses, pain and suffering.
Salmonella is a bacterium found in the intestines of many animals. It can be passed when people don't wash their hands properly. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, cramps, nausea and gas.
William Marler, managing partner, Marler Clark, doesn't believe the source of the incident was a single instance of poor hygiene since the outbreaks were linked to purchases made over a span of three months.
"There likely was an ill worker [infected with salmonella] who was asymptomatic but shedding the fecal bacteria for months and not washing their hands after going to the bathroom," he said. "Wal-Mart removed the [dairy and deli] workers and assigned them elsewhere in the store. They're probably performing stool cultures until they test negative."