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Outbreak News

Lawsuit filed over tainted cantaloupes

Gary Chittim, KING 5 News

May 24, 2002

SEATTLE - A Seattle law firm is going after a company blamed for distributing tainted cantaloupe that made an elderly man deathly ill.

A lawsuit filed in federal court Friday accuses the company of failing to ensure the imported cantaloupes were safe.

84-year-old Harold Elli of Klickitat County is in a rehabilitation center after spending more than two weeks in the hospital. He's going to make it, but doctors say he was on the brink of death - all from food poisoning from cantaloupes.

Steven Elli still remembers being told his Dad was on his deathbed suffering from salmonella from a cantaloupe.

"It's unreal,” said Steven Elli. “I couldn't believe it. You hear about meat all the time and here we've got fresh produce. What's going to be next?"

Actually, salmonella from cantaloupe is not all that rare. The lawsuit contends dozens of residents in the western states got it form the same batch of Mexican grown cantaloupes.

Attorneys say the distributor, Kunick Company of Texas, is responsible for the safety of the produce it imports and sells.

"In this case there's obviously been a startling lack of effort to make sure that the cantaloupe in question was produced under sanitary conditions," said Bruce Clark, attorney.

KING 5 News contacted the Kunik Company Friday, which voluntarily recalled more than a quarter million cantaloupes when the first health issues surfaced.

A spokesman says he sorry it happened, but can't comment on a lawsuit he hasn't seen yet.

The possibly tainted cantaloupe was sold under the Susi brand name. Stores pulled it from their shelves but anyone who may have purchased it should return it.

More on this outbreak: Kunick Cantaloupe Salmonella Outbreak

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