Food safety lawyer Ron Simon has filed the first salmonella lawsuit against Costco and Norwegian-based Foppen stemming from a salmonella outbreak linked to contaminated Foppen smoked salmon sold at Costco stores nationwide.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Plaintiff Lorena Vasquez, a 39-year old resident of Mission, Texas.
In September 2012, Vasquez purchased a package of Foppen Norwegian Smoked Salmon Slices from the Costco located in Pharr, Texas.
Shortly after consuming the salmon, she experienced symptoms of diarrhea, abdominal pain, weakness, and related dehydration and was diagnosed with salmonellosis.
As a result of her illness, Vasquez was hospitalized and underwent multiple surgeries.
The Costco / Foppen Salmonella Thompson Outbreak
In the late summer and fall of 2012, the Netherlands experienced its largest food-borne bacterial outbreak in history. The pathogen was Salmonella Thompson, which traditionally appears annually in single or low double-digit numbers in the Netherlands.
By August of 2012, approximately 60 culture-confirmed cases of Salmonella Thompson had been identified; in September, over 120 more were identified; in October, nearly 900 victims had tested positive; and in November and December, approximately 100 more were identified. By December, the count of new cases had slowed to about 20, and by January 2013, the outbreak was deemed over.
As soon as health officials in the Netherlands recognized that they were in the midst of a national outbreak, investigators and epidemiologists from the National Institute for Public Health (RIVM) and the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) began to engage in a massive trace-back and epidemiological investigation.
It took investigators six weeks to determine and announce that smoked salmon was the source of the Salmonella Thompson illnesses. The salmon was the product of Foppen Paling & Zalm (“Foppen”) of Harderwijk, the Netherlands. Almost immediately thereafter, Foppen announced that the massive contamination of its salmon by Salmonella Thompson had occurred at its processing plant in Preveza, Greece.
By December of 2012, the RIVM had identified 1200 culture-confirmed victims, including four fatalities.
Costco Sold Foppen’s Contaminated Smoked Salmon in the United States
Significantly, Foppen’s contaminated smoked salmon was also distributed in the United States. According to Foppen company spokesman Bart de Vries, Foppen had only one U.S. customer, Costco, that had purchased large amounts of the fish.
On Monday, October 1, 2012, Costco initiated a recall and removal of the smoked salmon. Craig Wilson, Vice President of Costco, confirmed that the company was also in the process of contacting the 247,000 members who had purchased the contaminated salmon. Vasquez did not receive notice of the recall until after she had become ill.
Harald Wychgel, a spokesman for the Dutch public health institute, reported that as of October 2, 2012, his agency had received information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that at least 100 U.S. residents had been sickened with the identical strain of Salmonella Thompson found in Foppen’s contaminated smoked salmon.
Wychgel’s announcement was consistent with information provided by several states, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), all of which were conducting investigations of a spike in Salmonella Thompson cases in the United States. At least 10 people were hospitalized in the outbreak.