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Butterball Salmonella Recall and Mass. Food Safety Laws

Posted by Marianne C. LeBlanc

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Marianne is a trial attorney with over two decades of experience in representing clients and a member of BBO and served on the Regulators Subcommittee of the SJC Committee on Lawyer Well-Being. With record-setting verdicts in MA, Marianne’s advocacy skills draw on her commitment to making a difference both for clients and the community at large. Meet Marianne

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This month the Federal Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) issued a recall on Butterball brand ground turkey due to concerns of Salmonella contamination.  Butterball has been linked to at least six different cases of illnesses in three different states so far: North Carolina, Michigan, and Wisconsin.  

Here in Massachusetts, Market Basket in Andover has been noted as one of four retailers whose stock may contain the infected ground turkey.  

Salmonella Schwarzengrund has been outlined as the cause of the Butterball recall. S. Schwarzengrund has been responsible for several previous outbreaks in the U.S.  Some samples of this strain have developed multi-drug resistance in poultry.  S. Schwarzengrund, once rare, has become the fifth most common strain found in retail meat in the U.S.  

While this product recall names a single strain of Salmonella, there are over 2,000 known strains of Salmonella. Salmonella exposure can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps, among other potential symptoms – this is known as Salmonellosis.  

While most people will recover within 4-7 days of exposure, those with weaker immune systems, such as infants, the elderly, and those fighting other diseases, are at a higher risk to develop a severe illness. If a Salmonella infection spreads beyond the intestines, the risk of life-threatening complications rises.

What are my legal options if I’m exposed to Salmonella in Massachusetts?

If someone is exposed to Salmonella and develops a serious illness or injury, legal remedies do exist under Massachusetts law. SUGARMAN represents victims of foodborne illness and SUGARMAN attorney and principal, Stacey Pietrowicz, has written about Massachusetts Food Poisoning Claims.  

Two potential legal remedies include claims for negligence and breach of warranty. For example, if a consumer can prove that a producer knew or should have known about a product defect, and the product directly caused injury, a consumer may be able to win a negligence claim.  

“The risk of buying contaminated food at a grocery store or eating it at a restaurant is higher than many people think,” Pietrowicz wrote in 2015. “The CDC estimates that each year one in six Americans (or 48 million people) become ill, 128,000 people are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases.”  

A grocery, food distributor or restaurant may be held liable for food poisoning from contaminated food.  

Notably, under Massachusetts law, a consumer injured by defective food does not have to prove that the food seller was negligent. All that is needed is proof that the food was unfit to be sold and that it caused illness or injury.

How can I stay safe from Salmonella and food poisoning?

Salmonella is just one of many types of foodborne illnesses.  Such illnesses come in many forms, and from a variety of sources, such as viruses, parasites, bacteria, and toxins. To avoid reaching dangerous points of exposure, keep up to date with food product recalls:  

Consumers with Butterball turkey labelled with the establishment number “EST. P-7345” should not eat the product. Return the product to the place of purchase, or dispose of it entirely.  

If you are concerned that food you have recently purchased may be contaminated, the FSIS has created AskKaren.gov. “Ask Karen” is a virtual representative available around the clock to assist in food safety matters – including questions and concerns. “AskKaren” provides a database of knowledge regarding different types of food safety topics, and features a live chat option to speak with agents immediately.

If you or someone you know has been injured as a result of a foodborne illness, SUGARMAN may be able to help. Fill out a contact form, call us at 617-542-1000, or email info@sugarman.com. We will respond as soon as possible.