Attorney Fred Pritzker Says Salmonella Outbreak Raises Food Safety Questions

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Leading food safety lawyer Fred Pritzker has watched the latest multi-state Salmonella outbreak unfold from his front-row seat in Minneapolis. It was the Minnesota Department of Health that once again traced what is believed to be the problem: Tainted King Nut brand peanut butter sold to non-retail food service accounts such as nursing homes, hospitals, schools, restaurants and other commercial kitchens. Pritzker, whose firm practices extensively in the area of foodborne illness litigation, has called on the responsible companies to quickly pay medical bills and wage loss benefits of victims. He also believes the case is further proof that federal food safety regulation desperately needs reform. The King Nut Salmonella case is the second major Salmonella outbreak in less than 24 months to be tied to peanut butter.

One also has to wonder if microbiological testing is lax

The second major U.S. Salmonella outbreak in less than 24 months involving peanut butter suggests an industry-wide problem and demonstrates the need for more intense regulation and faster detection of an outbreak's source, leading food safety lawyer Fred Pritzker said.

"The American public should not have to guess about the safety of a product beloved by children," said Pritzker, one of the nation's most experienced practitioners of foodborne illness litigation.

King Nut Companies of Solon, Ohio, announced a recall of its King Nut brand of peanut butter (http://www.kingnut.com/site.cfm/news.cfm) after the Minnesota Department of Health, working in conjunction with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, announced it found evidence that the product may be the source of a Salmonella Typhimurium outbreak (http://www.health.state.mn.us/news/pressrel/2009/salmonella010909.html).

King Nut peanut butter is manufactured by Peanut Corporation of America, a company based in Lynchburg, Virginia. The brand is sold to commercial foodservice accounts, including nursing homes and hospitals, not to retail stores.

Pritzker's Minneapolis law firm has been closely monitoring developments in the Salmonella Typhimurium outbreak that has sickened nearly 400 people in 42 states since early September, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)(http://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/typh0109/010909.html). In early 2007, Pritzker witnessed first hand the suffering of clients sickened in a nationwide Salmonella outbreak caused by Peter Pan and Great Value brand peanut butter.

In that instance, ConAgra recalled the product, but not before it was linked to 628 Salmonella illnesses in 47 states, according to the CDC (http://www.cdc.gov/media/mmwrnews/2007/n070531.htm).

Pritzker said federal agencies have failed to find the cause of two consecutive Salmonella outbreaks, raising questions about the government's effectiveness. Last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration drew heavy criticism for falsely correlating a nationwide Salmonella outbreak with U.S.-grown tomatoes. After weeks passed and more than 1,400 people became ill, the same Minnesota investigators who zeroed in on King Nut peanut butter correctly linked the 2007 Salmonella outbreak to jalapeno peppers grown in Mexico.

Pritzker said the record is evidence that more resources must be devoted to federal food safety - both in prevention of contamination and detection of outbreaks. The current system is undermined by too much fragmentation of responsibility and not enough coordination between federal, state and local agencies, Pritzker said.

"This means more money and more staff must be devoted to federal food safety," Pritzker said.

"One also has to wonder if microbiological testing is lax," Pritzker said, especially in manufactured foods such as peanut butter. "This isn't a case involving fresh produce that is difficult to test. It's about a food product with a long shelf life that should not be allowed to leave the manufacturer unless its safety is confirmed."

Pritzker called on the companies involved in the latest Salmonella outbreak to launch a major communications effort to alert consumers to the dangers associated with the products that have been recalled. The campaign should include instructions for handling and testing product believed to be associated with the outbreak. he said.

In addition, Pritzker called on the responsible companies to immediately agree to pay for medical expenses and wage loss benefits for victims linked to the outbreak. There also should be a prompt and robust plan for reimbursing purchasers for the cost of the recalled product, he said.

Fred Pritzker is founder and president of Pritzker Law, a firm with involvement in practically every major food poisoning outbreak including the Peter Pan peanut butter Salmonella outbreak and the Taste of Chicago Salmonella outbreak in 2007, among many others. The firm has collected millions of dollars on behalf of victims of food poisoning. For more information, visit http://www.pritzkerlaw.com/ or contact Fred Pritzker at (612) 338-0202.

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