Daily Southtown 09-19-2006 (E. coli Spinach)

Daily Southtown 09-19-2006 (E. coli Spinach)

Class-action lawsuit filed in Cook County

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

By Eric Herman
Special to the Daily Southtown

In what could be the first in a bumper crop of class-action lawsuits, a Glenview restaurant is suing a California food company over spinach possibly tainted with the E. coli bacteria.

G&G Restaurant Corp., owner of Hamilton’s Restaurant in Glenview, filed the lawsuit Monday in Cook County Circuit Court. Unlike other lawsuits filed in the latest outbreak, it does not allege physical harm but seeks only compensation for money spent on spinach that had to be discarded.

“We want to ensure that this will not happen again. We’re a restaurant, and we’re well-known for our fresh products,” said George Gregousis, who owns Hamilton’s.

The suit’s defendant is Natural Selection Foods, a San Juan Bautista, Calif.-based company that sells prepackaged spinach under the Earthbound Farm brand. Federal authorities have identified Natural Selection as a possible source of the E. coli outbreak.

On Thursday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration advised consumers not to eat bagged fresh spinach. Natural Selection issued a recall for all the spinach it packages that has “Best if Used by Dates” of Aug. 17 through Oct. 1. In addition to its own brand, Natural Selection packs spinach for Dole, Trader Joe’s, President’s Choice and other brands.

The strain of E. coli bacteria linked to the tainted spinach can cause diarrhea, and in some cases, kidney failure. In the latest outbreak, 114 cases have been reported nationwide, with one death in Wisconsin.

Gregousis threw out $40 worth of spinach when he heard about the outbreak. His restaurant has stopped serving spinach salad and omelets, he said. While he acknowledged that $40 is not much money, “it’s a lot of people that lost $40,” he said.

Class-action lawsuits allow many plaintiffs with relatively small claims to band together to seek damages.

“All we’re seeking is the price that you paid for that spinach, which makes this well-suited for a class-action,” Gregousis’ lawyer, Tom Zimmerman, said.

Natural Selection executives could not be reached for comment. Last week, chief operating officer Charles Sweat said in a statement, “Quality and food safety have been the centerpiece of our business, and we pride ourselves on the high standards we have set.”

A Seattle law firm has filed three personal injury lawsuits on behalf of alleged victims of the outbreak.

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