Tainted melons lead to 3 salmonella lawsuits in Midwest

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News
Consumers who ate pre-cut melons, including watermelon, muskmelon, cantaloupe and fruit salad mixes with melon, are urged to throw the fruit away.

Walmart and Caito Foods are facing lawsuits Tuesday after pre-cut melons sold at grocery stores were tied to an outbreak of salmonella. 

Lawsuits have been filed in Missouri, Ohio and Michigan. Of the 60 reported cases, Michigan has been the hardest hit with 32 cases. 

Jory Lange Jr., food safety attorney based in Texas, filed a lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Detroit  on behalf of a 40-year-old woman from Wayne County who became ill after eating the melons. 

"She bought the fruit twice from Walmart and got sick but was unaware it was making her sick," Lange told The Detroit News. "Until there’s a recall, no one knows what to stop eating. There’s no way to tell if pre-cut fruit is contaminated. That's why we rely on distributors to issue safe food." 

Health departments in Michigan advised consumers to throw away pre-cut melons from Walmart and Kroger stores Friday due to a multistate outbreak of salmonella adelaide linked to cut melons, health officials said.

Since April 30, five states have reported illnesses. Of the 60 cases, 31 people have been hospitalized. No deaths have occurred. 

Other states that have reported illnesses as part of the outbreak include Illinois (6 cases), Indiana (11 cases), Missouri (10 cases) and Ohio (1 case). 

Lange said they expect more reports of illnesses.

"While there are 60 so far, we expect that number to rise as time goes on and more become aware," Lange said. "Past instances have shown for each reported case, there are often 29 other cases that are unreported."

Lange said that in each of the lawsuits, the victims bought the pre-cut melons from Walmart. 

Randy Hargrove, Walmart spokesman, said the company is committed to providing customers safe food. 

"As soon as we were notified of the Caito Foods voluntary recall, we immediately began to identify the affected products and instructed our stores to pull them," Hargrove said in a statement. "We take this issue seriously and once we are served with the complaints, we will respond appropriately with the courts."

Caito Foods, an Indianapolis-based food manufacturer and distributor of pre-cut melons to retail stores, recalled cut watermelon, honeydew, cantaloupe and mixed fruit containing one of the melons on Friday due to potential salmonella contamination.

Caito Foods officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

Lange said they hope the lawsuits will notify consumers and prevent further spread of the bacterial disease. 

"We all assume the ready-to-go food is safe," Lange said. "Look at what's in your refrigerator. Imagine how you would test everything. You can't. We rely on these companies."

The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services are working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to investigate the multistate outbreak.

"Walmart and Kroger are cooperating fully with the investigation and have removed all cut melon associated with this outbreak," according to a news release. "The CDC is not recommending people avoid whole melons."

Most people infected with salmonella develop diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after being exposed to the bacteria. The illness usually lasts four to seven days and most people recover without treatment, according to the FDA.

"This investigation is expanding rapidly," according to the release. "The FDA is working to identify a supplier of pre-cut melon to stores where ill people shopped. CDC’s advice to consumers may expand to include other stores where contaminated pre-cut melon was sold." 

More information and steps to take to reduce the risk of infection can be found on the CDC Salmonella website at www.cdc.gov/salmonella/.


Twitter: @SarahRahal_