The family of 99-year-old Mildred Hendricks is suing a local importer and distributor of cucumbers from Mexico.
Hendricks ate cucumbers tainted with Salmonella last month and was hospitalized. She died three days later.
Hendricks is described as a vibrant 99-year-old. Her family and neighbors were looking forward to celebrating her 100th birthday in December.
She lived independently in the home she and her now deceased husband bought decades ago. They married before World War II.
"She had lots of people come by to see her and bring her dinner every now and then or take her out to eat. She handled all of her own finances, communicated with all of her family members,” said Attorney Ron Simon.
Simon says her family is suing local importer Andrew and Williamson Fresh Produce, based in San Diego.
The lawsuit accuses A & W of failing to test and clean its cucumbers imported from Mexico's Baja region. Cucumbers referred to as 'slicer' or 'American' cucumber, dark green, typically 7 to 10 inches long, and sold in bulk under the name "Limited Edition."
The Centers for Disease Control identified 341 victims who ate those cucumbers tainted with Salmonella. Hendricks is the second victim who died.
"Mildred Hendricks was forced to pay the ultimate price,” said Simon
Simon, whose Texas-based firm has handled more than 5,000 food poisoning cases in the last 10 years, says it’s really difficult to tell if a vegetable or fruit is contaminated because you can’t see, smell or taste the bacteria.
He adds a good washing and scrubbing with warm water will reduce the bacteria to where it won't make you sick. But beyond that, it’s the responsibility of the company importing the produce.
"You really are placing your lives in their hands when you eat,” said Simon.
Simon says of all the victims poisoned by contaminated produce, they were either very young, very old or had weak immune systems. He says he's noticed more cases of contamination from imported produce.
"It's cheaper, it's grown under conditions that aren't the same as the United States. And they're more dangerous,” said Simon.
It’s not known whether Hendricks ate a cucumber bought at a store or prepared at a restaurant.
10News hasn't heard back from A & W regarding this lawsuit. The company did post a statement on its website explaining that it recalled these cucumbers on September 4, and that it stopped all of its harvesting and packing operations at its facility while the county health department investigates.
To assist victims of the outbreak, Simon’s firm has established a Salmonella Claim Center which can be reached toll-free at 1-888-335-4901. For more details about the recall and outbreak, visit http://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/outbreaks/multistate-outbreaks/outbreaks-list.html