Parents sue importer whose cantaloupe allegedly gave child Salmonella

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The parents of a 16-month-old child who got salmonella poisoning after eating a contaminated cantaloupe filed suit Monday against the company that allegedly imported the fruit from Mexico.

Nathan Eget of Tarzana was hospitalized for nine days in late April and early May with fever, vomiting and severe diarrhea after eating a Viva brand cantaloupe, according to the U.S. District Court lawsuit.

The federal Food and Drug Administration later linked Viva cantaloupes, imported by Shipley Sales Service of Nogales, Ariz., to a salmonella outbreak that caused two fatalities in California and numerous illnesses in more than a dozen states.

The California Department of Health Services said the onset of symptoms occurred between April 6 and May 4, and caused two deaths and 18 illnesses in the state. The department linked Nathan's illness to the outbreak, according to the Egets' attorney, Bill Marler of Seattle.

"The parents were typical consumers of cantaloupe. They bought it at their local Ralphs grocery store, took it home and fed it to their kid," Marler said. "It's just a real tragedy that our products that we think are safe can be so contaminated that our kids can end up with a week in the ICU."

The product liability lawsuit alleges that Shipley distributed and sold cantaloupe that was adulterated and contaminated with salmonella poona bacteria -- the rare strain of salmonella involved in the April outbreak -- in violation of state and federal health and safety regulations.

It seeks to recover the $37,000 Nathan's parents spent on his health care, plus unspecified compensation for general pain and suffering, future medical expenses, loss of enjoyment of life and other alleged damages.

Nathan still tests positive for the bacteria, and could face future complications, Marler said.

The lawsuit names Robert Shipley, doing business as Shipley Sales Service. A man answering the phone at Shipley Sales Service on Monday identified himself as Bob Shipley, but declined to reveal his position with the company or make any other comment.

"This is the first we've ever seen of anything like that over here," Shipley said after a reporter faxed him a copy of the complaint. "I would have to submit that to other people that would be handling that. I can't comment on that."

Salmonella is a bacteria that lives in the intestinal tracts of humans and other animals. It is usually transmitted to humans via food contaminated with animal feces.

Symptoms of salmonellosis include diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps. The illness usually lasts four to seven days, and most people recover without treatment.

Every year, approximately 40,000 cases are reported in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Children are most likely to be infected.

To avoid contracting salmonellosis, the CDC recommends washing produce well with tap water before eating it; washing hands, utensils and kitchen surfaces frequently; and using different cutting boards and utensils for meat and produce.

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