Business

Hepatitis A outbreak: 1st lawsuit filed against Townsend Farms, Costco

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

The first lawsuit has been filed stemming from the hepatitis A outbreak linked to frozen berries sold at Costco stores. At least 34 illnesses have been reported in California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Arizona.

Three days after the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control announced a suspected link between the berries and the illnesses, Townsend Farms finally issued a recall on Tuesday. It was unclear why there was not an immediate recall by Townsend Farms, but the two grocery chains that carried the product -- Costco and Harris Teeter on the East Coast -- have pulled it from store shelves.

Hepatitis A is a contagious liver disease that can last from a few weeks to several months. People often contract it when an infected food handler prepares food without appropriate hand hygiene. Food already contaminated with the virus can also cause outbreaks.

The food safety law firm Simon & Luke filed the lawsuit on behalf of Lynda Brackenridge, a 51-year-old Lakewood resident, against Townsend Farms and Costco.

"We will determine exactly how these berries became contaminated so that we can prevent this from happening again. Americans deserve to eat with the confidence that their food won't harm them," said attorney Ron Simon in a statement. "This lawsuit is just one more step toward assuring that all foods in the United States be safe and free from contamination."

Brackenridge purchased and consumed the Townsend Farms Organic Anti-Oxidant Blend berries from Costco. Attorneys say she began to experience fatigue, chills, muscle and joint aches and loss of appetite on May 22, and over the next few days, she had other symptoms including vomiting, dry heaves, darkened urine and yellowing of the eyes and skin.

Doctors found that she had severe liver inflammation and was taken to Long Beach Memorial Hospital on Friday, and by Saturday, doctors confirmed she had hepatitis A. She remains isolated at the hospital in guarded condition.

"It's very scary that this can happen to anyone. I guess it's just a warning to other people," Brackenridge told Eyewitness News over the phone.

Before her illness, attorneys say Brackenridge led a healthy and active lifestyle that included hiking, kayaking, climbing and other outdoor activities. She has already lost over 10 pounds since becoming sick, attorneys said.

Brackenridge is seeking unspecified damages. Brackenridge hopes her lawsuit will lead to increased regulations.

"Hopefully bringing attention to it like this will prevent something like this from happening," she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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recall, food, business, elex michaelson
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