MN Woman Files Lawsuit Amid Cucumber Salmonella Outbreak

San Diego-based produce company has recalled garden cucumbers believed to be the source of a salmonella outbreak

A Minnesota woman has filed a lawsuit against a San Diego-based produce company that recalled garden cucumbers believed to be the source of a salmonella outbreak. One Southern California woman has died in the outbreak, and nearly 300 people from 27 states have been sickened.

Kathleen R. Dvergsten, of Farmington, MN, 71, ate a salad allegedly made with the salmonella-tainted cucumbers at a Red Lobster near her home on Aug. 12., according to the lawsuit filed Monday by Seattle-based food safety law firm Marler Clark, on Dvergsten's behalf.

The cucumbers named in the lawsuit were imported from Mexico and distributed by Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce, according to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH). The lawsuit names the California produce company as a defendent. A company spokesman told NBC 7 they are taking steps to assist in the investigation and are not aware of the lawsuit. 

The lawsuit, the first filed in the wake of the outbreak, alleges that after Dvergsten ate at the Red Lobster, she went to the doctor and was treated for symptoms consistent with the stomach flu.

Her symptoms worsened in the following days, the lawsuit alleges. Dvergsten claims she experienced severe stomach cramps, vomiting and near-constant diarrhea.

She was taken to the hospital two days after the meal where her symptoms worsened further, according to the lawsuit. She developed nausea, a fever, muscle pain and weakness.

At the hospital, she tested positive for the cucumber-related strain of salmonella, the lawsuit alleges.

"My client was hospitalized for five days and then in a rehab center for another six days before she was able to even go home," an attorney for Dvergsten told NBC7.

She was treated at the hospital for a week before moving to a local center for rehabilitation. On Aug. 28, she returned home to finish her recovery.

"While it's good there's a recall now underway, it didn't come nearly soon enough," said Bill Marler, food safety advocate and managing partner at Marler Clark, in a statement. "One person has died eating what is usually a healthy food and hundreds have been sickened so far. As these cucumbers were sold to restaurants and home cooks, it's possible the number of illnesses will rise."

In a news release Friday, CDPH said 53 people have been hospitalized with salmonella serotype Poona. Of those reports, the agency said more than 50 people from California were reporting symptoms of salmonella exposure. 54 percent of those ill are children younger than 18 years old. 

"We issued a voluntary recall, working with federal and state authorities, we contacted all of our customers all harvest and packing operations at this facility have been stopped," David Murray, a partner with the produce company, told NBC7. "We are taking every precaution to remove this product from the market and if consumers are concerned, they should dispose of the product or bring the product back to the store where it was purchased."

San Diego County Health Officials say a 99-year-old San Diego woman died August 17 in the outbreak.

Grown and packed by Rancho Don Juanito in Mexico, the cucumbers were distributed between August 1 and September 3.

"We've had a long time exclusive relationship with a Rancho Don Juanito in Baja California they are also a family business and are just as committed to food safety as we are," Murray said. "In fact, they a leader in making positive improvements in farming and food activities in Mexico."

State officials could not identify the stores where the cucumbers were sold in San Diego. Anderson & Williamson Fresh Produce would not release the names of the retail stores that sold the cucumbers.

The cucumbers arrived in boxes marked as "Limited Edition" brand pole-grown cucumbers but state officials say it's unlikely the cucumbers would have any identifying brand information on the shelf.

State officials advise consumers to talk with their local grocer to ask if the cucumbers in their refrigerator may be those involved in the recall.

Seventeen California counties have had reports of illnesses.

The cucumbers were shipped to 22 states: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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