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Minnesota Couple Sues ConAgra Over Alleged Salmonella Illness

Associated Press
October 11, 2007

OMAHA, Neb. (AP)—A Minnesota couple sued ConAgra Foods Inc. (CAG) Thursday for selling the pot pies they believe made their young daughter ill with salmonella.

The federal lawsuit Amy and Joshua Reinert filed is the first one related to this week’s announcement that ConAgra’s banquet and generic pot pies had been linked to a salmonella outbreak.

The company and federal officials warned customers not to eat the pot pies and to throw them away, and ConAgra is offering refunds.

A company spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a message Thursday seeking comment about the lawsuit.

Amy Reinert said her daughter Isabelle continued to have diarrhea for nearly six weeks after she initially became ill in August at the age of 19 months.

An ambulance took the youngest of the Reinerts’ three children to the emergency room on Aug. 18 after she had a seizure and lost consciousness.

“That was the worst thing I’ve ever experienced as a parent,” Amy Reinert said. “It was horrible.”

A few days later, doctors told the Reinerts that Isabelle had salmonella, but it wasn’t until this week - after countless interviews with health officials - that the family learned what caused the illness.

Isabelle’s salmonella matched the strain of the illness that health officials have linked to at least 152 cases of salmonella in 31 states. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said at least 20 people have been hospitalized as part of the ongoing outbreak, but so far no deaths have been linked to the pot pies.

ConAgra officials have said they believe the pot pies are safe when they are thoroughly cooked according to the package directions. The company is revising the cooking directions on its pot pie packages to clarify how long the pies should be cooked in different microwaves.

Currently, the Banquet pot pie package advises consumers to cook the product for 4 minutes in a medium or high wattage microwave or for 6 minutes in a low wattage microwave. But the package doesn’t say how to determine what defines a low, medium or high wattage microwave.

Amy Reinert said she always cooked the pot pies longer than that, so she doubts the company’s explanation. She cooked them for 7 minutes in the microwave and the put them in the oven for 10 minutes to make the crust crispy.

The lawyer who is handling the Reinerts’ lawsuit, Bill Marler, has criticized ConAgra’s decision not to immediately recall the product. Marler, of Seattle- based law firm Marler Clark, handles many food-borne illness cases.

Amy Reinert said she was bothered by the company’s response.

“I was just so upset and concerned that they seemed to be taking this so lightly,” Amy Reinert said.

Salmonella sickens about 40,000 people a year in the U.S. and kills about 600. Most of the deaths are among people with weaker immune systems such as the elderly or very young.

Salmonella poisoning can cause diarrhea, fever, dehydration, abdominal pain and vomiting. Most cases are caused by undercooked eggs and chicken.

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