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Illinois Woman Sues Subway Over Salmonella Outbreak

Investigation into May incident continues

By Jon Hood

July 2, 2010

An Illinois woman says a sandwich she bought from a Subway restaurant made her sick with salmonella poisoning, and suggests that hundreds of other Illinoisans were similarly afflicted.

[A Boolingbrook resident], who was hospitalized in May after eating a sandwich from a Subway in Aurora, Illinois, has filed suit against Subway and Doctor's Associates, the restaurant's franchisor. According to the suit, filed in Will County Circuit Court, [the plaintiff] missed work due to her illness, and suffered nausea so debilitating that doctors had to administer intravenous fluids.

The Illinois Department of Health has so far confirmed 97 cases of salmonella poisoning in 28 counties across the state. The strain at issue, Salmonella Hvittingfoss, is rare, and generally causes only one or two people in the state to become ill every year. The department said the bacteria, which has caused 17 hospitalizations but no deaths, is linked to 47 separate Subway franchise locations in Illinois.

Problem likely understated

[The] complaint says the actual number of people affected is likely "much larger than 90," noting that "[t]he Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that in any Salmonella outbreak the actual number of victims is as many as 38 times the number of reported, confirmed cases."

Following the outbreak, which officials say occurred between May 11 and June 5, Subway voluntarily withdrew a number of items, including lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and green peppers.

Last week, Subway issued a statement apologizing for the outbreak, and said it was still investigating its cause.

"We are truly sorry for the difficulty this situation has caused you, our consumer, and are working diligently to solve this mystery and regain your trust," the statement says. "We are confident the current fresh produce being served in Subway restaurants are safe to eat."

Previous incident

Subway has dealt with large-scale salmonella infections before. In 2008, 120 people in Great Britain and Ireland were sickened when the company used salmonella-infected meat in its sandwiches. Although the outbreak was identified in August of that year, the first cases likely occurred in February, meaning the company sold the infected meat for over five months.

And [the] suit comes as Illinois deals with another salmonella outbreak, this one at a Cook County country club. That outbreak has sickened 29 people and sent at least seven to the hospital; county officials are still investigating the cause. It's not yet clear whether the two incidents are related.

Salmonella, often caused by unclean water or other conditions, typically produces symptoms within 72 hours after exposure. Infected individuals usually experience some combination of stomach cramps, fever, diarrhea, and vomiting. The best way to stop the spread of salmonella is by regular hand washing with soap and water, especially after using the restroom.

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