Below is information regarding a lawsuit attorney Fred Pritzker filed against Whole Foods Market for people sickened in an outbreak linked to contaminated cheese.

First Lawsuit Filed against Whole Foods Market

Fred Pritzker and Brendan Flaherty
Attorneys Fred Pritzker and Brendan Flaherty

Attorneys Fred Pritzker and Brendan Flaherty have filed what is believed to be the first lawsuit against Whole Foods Market Group, Inc. and Forever Cheese, Inc. on behalf of a victim of the Listeria monocytogenes outbreak linked to cheese imported by Forever Cheese. The outbreak has sickened at least 14 people in 11 states, three of whom died.  The suit (CV12-4634) was filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York on September 17, 2012.

Our Client Ate Cheese and Contracted a Listeria Infection

On and around May 27, 2012, our client ate a variety of cheeses from the cheese department at the Whole Foods store located at 5880 Centre Avenue, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Several days after consuming the cheeses, Mr. McKissick began experiencing symptoms of listeriosis: nausea, vomiting, muscle aches and fever.  Shortly there after, he was hospitalized. Cerebrospinal fluid obtained by a spinal tap tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes, the dangerous pathogen that causes listeriosis.

As is the case with most listeriosis patients, our client became gravely ill, suffering profound nervous-system and cognitive dysfunction, including ventilator-dependent respiratory failure.  He was hospitalized several weeks.

There is Substantial Evidence Linking Cheese Sold at Whole Foods to Our Client’s Case of Meningitis

We have evidence to suggest that ricotta salata (Frescolina brand imported by Forever Cheese) is the source of this outbreak and that other cheeses sold by Whole Foods Market were contaminated by the ricotta salata. Some victims of this outbreak may have eaten ricotta salata or another cheese sold at Whole Foods Market.  Other grocery stores and restaurants may also be involved in the outbreak.

The CDC, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and state health departments investigated and found the outbreak strain of Listeria monocytogenes in a sample from an uncut wheel of Frescolina ricotta cheese imported and then distributed by Forever Cheese, who recalled Frescolina ricotta cheese on September 10, 2012. On September 12, Whole Foods initiated a recall of the Frescolina ricotta salata cheese. According to the Whole Foods recall notice, “The recalled ricotta salata Frescolina brand cheese was cut into wedges, packaged in clear plastic wrap and sold with a Whole Foods Market scale label using PLU 293427. All ‘sell by’ dates through Oct. 2 are affected…” The cheese was sold in some Whole Foods Market stores in 21 states and Washington DC.

The complaint (document we filed to start the lawsuit) alleges that prior to May 27, 2012, Whole Foods processed Frescolina ricotta salata cheese that was previously adulterated with the outbreak strain of Listeria monocytogenes by removing it from its original packaging, cutting it into smaller portions, repackaging it for retail sale and relabeling it. The complaint then states, “In doing so, Defendant Whole Foods cross-contaminated other cheese products sold in Whole Foods stores with the outbreak strain. Mr. McKissick consumed a portion of each of the cheeses purchased on May 27, 2012, over the following days.”

“This is a complicated national outbreak that raises a number of important questions: when, where and how did this pasteurized cheese become contaminated by Listeria monocytogenes and how did cross contamination spread it to cheeses other than the recalled product?” Pritzker continued, “It certainly appears there is plenty of fault to go around in this case. An expensive, imported cheese was adulterated with Listeria monocytogenes after it was pasteurized. Cross contamination by others in the chain of distribution caused this adulteration to be spread to other cheeses. Consumers have a right to purchase cheese that’s safe and free of pathogens that cause serious injury and death.”