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Woman's son sues over E. coli death

By Joshua L. Kwan

Posted on Mon, Feb. 23, 2004

San Jose Mercury News

The son of an 85-year-old woman who died of complications from a bacterium infection has sued the food service company that supplied contaminated spinach to the Portola Valley nursing home where the woman lived.

The lawsuit, filed last week in San Mateo County Superior Court, blames the death of Alice McWalter on Sodexho, the Maryland-based company contracted to prepare and serve food for residents at the Sequoias nursing home.

McWalter contracted E. coli in October, most likely from contaminated spinach in the cafeteria. She was hospitalized on Oct. 14 and died 12 days later from complications related to the infection.

The San Mateo County Health Services Agency investigated an E. coli outbreak at the Sequoias and found that 46 residents and staff members reported symptoms. Of those, 13 had confirmed infections. Seven people -- including McWalter -- were hospitalized.

A spokesman for Sodexho, one of the world's largest food services companies, could not be reached for comment. The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, accuses the food provider of violating state and federal health and food safety laws.

Keith McWalter, a Portola Valley lawyer, said his mother complained of abdominal pain when he visited her on Oct. 12. The first Sequoia resident was hospitalized on Oct. 10, but residents weren't warned of a possible E. coli outbreak until Oct. 13.

A spokesman for the nursing home operator, Northern California Presbyterian Homes & Services, said the home did not receive test results indicating an E. coli problem until Oct. 13.

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