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Tomato Outbreak Update—Interview with Lawyer

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Seattle, WAThe law firm Marler Clark, LLP has so far been contacted by about two dozen individuals who claim they have contracted salmonellosis that was linked to raw red plum, red Roma, and red round tomatoes, and products containing these three kinds of tomatoes. Currently, the law firm is investigating these claims to determine whether they are part of the outbreak. The individuals suffered gastrointestinal illness and some have been hospitalized.

TomatoesIt is not yet known where the outbreak originated from, or how it occurred. "In all likelihood, this happened somewhere in the production line," says Drew Falkenstein, associate at Marler Clark. "To get such a widespread smattering of cases—from Texas to Mexico, from Washington to along the west coast—you must have something that occurs relatively deeply in the chain of distribution."

Falkenstein's guess would also explain why salmonellosis illness has been reported all over the western states and not just in one particular state or confined to a smaller area. The outbreak most likely did not come from a distributor say, in Seattle, but had to occur closer to the grower.

In the past, outbreaks have occurred due to animal feces in the field but in this case, three varieties of tomatoes have been linked to salmonellosis. Again, this is speculative, but chances are, these three kinds of tomatoes were not grown in the same field or even the same area. "Since the outbreak is more widespread, it has to come from something [or someone] that has pervasive contact with the fruit," says Falkenstein.

If you suspect that you have contracted salmonellosis, Falkenstein advises that you do two important things:

1. First and foremost, encourage your nurse practitioner or medical provider to perform a stool test. If it reads positive for salmonella, it can show the defendant that you have a positive lab test for this particular salmonella strain. And if you can show exposure to the implicated food, then most times, you have carried your burden of proof.

2. Notify your local health department as soon as possible—report your situation.

A stool sample is so important. Chances are, if you have salmonella, you have diarrhea but you have to make an effort to get a stool sample taken. "There is no magic pill," says Falkenstein. And be sure to get the stool sample before you have any antibiotics prescribed—even if you have salmonella, medications can show a negative test result. As well, "Keeping in mind that I am not basing this on any medical knowledge, I think physicians will tell you not to take any diarrhea meds because your body is trying to run its course. Diarrhea is a defense mechanism and your body is getting rid of that bacteria."

"Right now it is too early to talk about lawsuits and I am not aware of a class action yet," says Falkenstein. "Sometimes getting the word out to those injured due to these outbreaks is difficult, particularly in this large geographical area. We have not filed any suits yet but we intend to do so, assuming our investigation into these (so far) two dozen people establishes that they are victims from the outbreak.

"But the word is getting out. I spoke to my relatives and friends today from all over the US and they all asked me about the tomato scare. As well, Bill Marler (at our firm) will be appearing on ABC news this evening and all the major newspapers are on top of it. "

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