Our national food safety law firm has filed a lawsuit against The SoyNut Butter Company on behalf of M.R., a young child, and his parents, residents of Coconino County, Arizona. Attorneys Brendan Flaherty and Ryan Osterholm (1-888-377-8900) filed the suit on March 23, 2017, in the United Stated District Court Northern District of Illinois (Case : 1:17-cv-02233).
The lawsuit alleges that M.R. contracted a nearly-fatal E. coli O157:H7 infection after eating I.M. Healthy SoyNut Butter at daycare in Flagstaff, Arizona, which purchased the product for use at the daycare facility. This product was processed and branded by The SoyNut Butter Company, based in Glevnview, Illinois. Little M.R. ate the SoyNut product at the daycare in early January.
The suit alleges that E. coli O157:H7 was hidden in the SoyNut Butter product M.R. consumed, and that it was the same strain of bacteria responsible for an outbreak of illnesses in 9 states: Arizona, California, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, Oregon, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.
On approximately January 16, 2017, M.R. developed intense stomach pain followed by profuse and bloody diarrhea. The symptoms became so severe that his parents brought him to a local emergency room in Flagstaff. M.R. was admitted to the hospital.
M.R. developed signs of a severe complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a life-threatening and life-altering disease of the kidneys. His kidney function precipitously declined and he was in critical condition and required dialysis treatment.
“Our young client almost lost his life,” said Brendan, who was on our team that won a $7.5 million verdict for another child who contracted E. coli-HUS.
As a direct result of consuming a contaminated product sold to retailers by The SoyNut Butter company, M.R. contracted a serious E coli infection, developed HUS, and has been left with permanent kidney damage, according to the lawsuit filed on the child’s behalf.
The parents of M.R. are also named as plaintiffs in the suit.
“The parents of a child who has HUS have been through hell,” said attorney Flaherty. “There is no way to describe how hard it is to see your child in the ICU and be told by world-class doctors that there is no cure and little they can do.”
What is Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome?
Hemolytic uremic syndrome is a complication of an E. coli O157:H7 infection.
Shiga-Toxin producing Escherichia coli (“STEC”) is bacteria that can contaminate food and, when ingested, cause an inflammatory response in the large intestine resulting in severe gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloody diarrhea and abdominal cramps. In about 2-7% of E. coli victims, primarily children, the Shiga toxins can travel to the kidneys and create small blood clots, which can cause the kidneys to shut down. This type of renal disease is called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). It generally happens 5 to 7 days after onset of diarrhea, and it accounts for the majority of the acute and chronic illnesses and deaths caused by the bacteria.
There is no cure or effective treatment for HUS. Once a child develops this disease, there is a very real risk of death or permanent kidney damage. Other long-term problems following HUS include an increased risk for hypertension, proteinuria (abnormal amounts of protein in the urine that can portend a decline in renal function), and reduced kidney filtration rate. In short, HUS causes permanent injury, including loss of kidney function, and it requires a lifetime of close medical monitoring.
M.R. is Part of a Multistate Outbreak of E. coli Linked to I.M. Healthy SoyNut Products
In late January and early February of 2017, the CDC detected a series of coli O157:H7 cases with a matching and very rare genetic pattern from both PFGE and WGS results (the “outbreak strain”). In response, CDC, the Food and Drug Administration, and state health departments launched an epidemiological investigation to determine the source of illnesses. The results of this initial investigation revealed that all of the individuals sickened by the outbreak strain that were interviewed reported consumption of either I.M. Healthy brand SoyNut Butter or I.M. Healthy brand granola coated with SoyNut Butter. The most recent CDC outbreak report states that health officials have identified twenty-three (23) individuals from nine states who have been infected with the outbreak strain of coli O157:H7:
Arizona (4 (5 with M.R.)), California (5), Maryland (1), Missouri (12), New Jersey (1), Oregon (6), Virginia (2), Washington (2), and Wisconsin (1).
These people were sickened from January 4, 2017 to March 5, 2017. Ill people range in age from 1 to 48 years, with a median age of 8. Twenty (87%) of the 23 ill people are younger than 18 years old.
Ten outbreak victims have been hospitalized, seven of whom developed HUS.
Children Sickened in Arizona
M.R. is not the only child sickened in Arizona. There are 4 others in Maricopa and Coconino counties, all under the age of 5 years old. Half of the Arizona cases have been hospitalized for this disease.
“Individuals with symptoms such as nausea, diarrhea, and abdominal cramping should seek medical attention if they develop bloody diarrhea or cannot drink enough fluids to keep hydrated,” said Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, medical director for Maricopa County Department of Public Health. “We are asking healthcare providers to get stool cultures if they suspect E. coli especially in young children.”
According to an Arizona Department of Health Services press release, the I.M. Healthy soynut butter and soynut butter-containing products have been distributed to a range of stores and purveyors in Arizona and are also available for purchase online. Due to their long shelf life, consumers should check for these products and not eat these products until further notice.
The Arizona State Public Health Laboratory has confirmed all four Arizona cases with the outbreak strain of STEC O157 bacteria. All of the persons became ill on or after January 16, 2017 and reported eating soynut butter-containing products.
Help for Children with E. coli O157:H7 and Their Families
Pritzker Hageman, P.A., E. coli lawyers represent people sickened in foodborne outbreaks throughout the United States. Attorneys Brendan Flaherty and Ryan Osterholm have won millions for their clients in lawsuits against food companies, distributors, daycare centers and others. Mr. Flaherty and Mr. Osterholm can be reached at 1-888-377-8900 (toll free) or by using our free consultation form.