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Botulism outbreak linked to Valley Oak Food and Fuel results in first lawsuit

20455274_1494997038.0408Illness linked to nacho cheese sauce; Victim remains in intensive care; Health Department reports as many as 9 ill and hospitalized

Sacramento resident Lavinia Kelly has filed suit against Valley Oak Food and Fuel Company of Walnut Grove, California, after she contracted Botulism from tainted nacho cheese sauce sold in the store. Ms. Kelly is alleging significant health problems as a result of her illness. She is represented by food safety advocate Bruce Clark, managing attorney at Marler Clark LLP, the Food Safety Law Firm, based in Seattle, along Quirk Law Firm, LLP, of Ventura, California. [Complaint] Kelly v. Valley Oak Food and Fuel Company, et al.

On Friday, April 21, Ms. Kelly bought tortilla chips with nacho cheese at the Valley Oak Food and Fuel store in Walnut Grove.  On April 22, the mother of three began to experience double vision and an unsteady gait. Concerned about her worsening symptoms, she sought medical attention at Sutter Medical Center ER, where she was treated and released.

The next day—Sunday, April 23—Ms. Kelly began to experience labored breathing and difficulty speaking. Her husband, Ricardo “Ricky” Torres, rushed her back to the hospital, where she was admitted and placed on mechanical ventilation.

Shortly after admission, Ms. Kelly was placed in intensive care. She has remained there ever since, unable to move much, speak, breathe on her own, or open her eyes. Family members must pull up her eyelids so she can see at all. She is in a constant state of physical pain. Her condition remains poor and her prognosis uncertain.

This outbreak of Botulism has been linked with five patients recently hospitalized with foodborne botulism. In collaboration with California Department of Public Health and Sacramento County Department of Environmental Management, Sacramento County Public Health are continuing to investigate the outbreak. The data indicates that the source of the cluster of illnesses is prepared food, particularly nacho cheese sauce, from Valley Oak Food and Fuel. The sale of prepared foods at this location was halted on May 5, 2017 by the Sacramento County Department of Environmental Management.

“This tragedy highlights the need for strict food safety standards and close examination of food service providers,” said Bruce Clark, attorney for the plaintiff. “In addition, people must be educated on food safety practices so that they can identify warning signs of food that might be dangerous to eat. No settlement can make up for the immense toll that Botulism takes on its victims.”

Botulism is a rare but serious illness caused by a nerve toxin produced by the bacterium Clostridium. The duration of the illness is from 1 to 10 (or more) days, depending on factors. Full recovery often takes from weeks to months. The mortality rate can range from 30% to 65%. Classic symptoms of botulism include double vision, blurred vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing and weakness. These are all symptoms of muscle paralysis caused by the bacterial toxin. If untreated, these symptoms may progress to cause paralysis of the respiratory muscles, limbs, and body, resulting in death from asphyxia unless intervention is applied. In foodborne botulism, symptoms generally begin 18 to 36 hours after eating a contaminated food, but they can occur as early as 6 hours or as late as 10 days. Patients may need to stay on a respirator for weeks or months, plus intensive medical and nursing care. Even several years after acute illness, victims may experience fatigue, weakness, and other symptoms.

Marler Clark, The Food Safety Law Firm, is the nation’s leading law firm representing victims of food-borne illness outbreaks. The lawyers of Marler Clark have represented thousands of victims of foodborne illness infections and have recovered over $600 million for clients. Marler Clark is the only law firm in the nation with a practice focused exclusively on foodborne illness litigation, and has litigated Botulism cases stemming from outbreaks traced to caned chili and carrot juice, among other foods. For more information about Botulism, please visit http://www.botulismblog.com.