Third lawsuit filed in Hepatitis A outbreak linked to frozen strawberries
A lawsuit has been filed in Fairfax County on behalf of seven victims who fell ill with Hepatitis A after consuming smoothie products from various locations throughout Virginia from Tropical Smoothie Café.
This is the third lawsuit against the company and expands the scope of responsibility for the plaintiffs’ illnesses. All plaintiffs are being represented by Salvatore J. Zambri of Regan Zambri & Long in Washington, DC, and William D. Marler of Marler Clark, a Seattle-based firm specializing in food safety.
The victims all purchased smoothies from a Tropical Smoothie Café location. Soon after consumption, they all fell ill with Hepatitis A and experienced typical symptoms of the disease, which include fever, nausea, vomiting, headaches, abdominal pain, and fatigue. The plaintiffs in the case include Courtney Key of Temple, TX; Natasha Berry of Bristow, VA; Emily Burns of Ashburn, VA; Trevor Edwards of Ashburn, VA; Kimberley Jacobs of Chester, VA; Shea Pines of Woodbridge, VA; and Terri Wood of Richmond, VA.
Several of the smoothies consumed by these victims contained frozen strawberries from Egypt. As of September 8, 2016, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports 89 people with Hepatitis A linked to this outbreak from seven states (MD, NC, NY, OR, VA, WI, and WV). The CDC, Food and Drug Administration, and local officials are currently investigating the outbreak, which has been linked to the Egyptian frozen strawberries served in Tropical Smoothie Café locations. Egypt’s Ministry of Agriculture has also launched an investigation into the tainted strawberries.
This latest complaint identifies not only Tropical Smoothie Café, LLC, whose corporate office is in Atlanta, GA, as a defendant, but also all the companies within the supply chain, which moved and distributed frozen strawberries from Egypt to restaurants in Virginia.
In addition to Tropical Smoothie Café, LLC, the defendants include JMG Enterprises, Inc. of Great Falls, VA; Sysco Corporation of Houston, TX; Sysco Hampton Roads, Inc. of Houston, TX; Sysco VA, LLC of Harrisonburg, VA; Sysco Merchandising and Supply Chain Services, Inc. of Houston, TX; International Traders, Inc. of Rocky Mount, NC; Patagonia Foods, LLC of San Luis Obispo, CA; and VLM Foods USA, Inc. of Plattsburgh, NY.
“It is a complex chain of distribution that moves strawberries from Egypt for use in the U.S. Upon information and belief, all of these companies played a role in not only shipping the fruit, but also in the illnesses that made the victims of this outbreak so sick that many of them required medical attention and have had to put their daily lives on hold,” said Mr. Marler, a respected food safety attorney who has long argued that all organizations and companies that handle food—whether packagers or restaurants—should require HAV vaccines for their employees to lessen the chance of an outbreak.
HAV is a contagious disease that most often spreads from person-to-person or is contracted through contaminated food or water. The virus can cause an acute infection of the liver with symptoms that can include fever, jaundice, muscle aches, headache, loss of appetite, abdominal discomfort, and malaise. In general, symptoms begin to present about 28 days after contraction and last for less than two months. Ten to fifteen percent of cases will have prolonged or relapsing symptoms for up to six months.
“This outbreak was absolutely avoidable,” said Mr. Zambri of Regan Zambri & Long, PLLC. “We are committed to unearthing all of the facts to get to the bottom of why and how food tainted with such an insidious virus—Hepatitis A —made its way into the domain.”