Company facing E. coli suit denies involvement

By Heather Guenther , Kayla Habermehl
The State News
Published: October 12, 2008


Source of Article:


Aunt Mid’s Produce Co. continues to deny claims that its lettuce was the source of an E. coli outbreak that sickened nine MSU students and 25 other Michigan residents.

The company has based its claims on the Michigan Department of Agriculture’s findings that stated there was no E. coli bacteria found in Aunt Mid’s iceberg lettuce or its packing facilities.

“We did not find E. coli,” said Jennifer Holton, a spokeswoman for the department. “However, we know that the samples we did take were not from the outbreak time frame.”

Testing of the specific lettuce was not possible because lettuce only has a shelf life of a few days, said James McCurtis, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Community Health.

“By the time we were testing, it was too late,” McCurtis said.

Dominic Riggio, president of Detroit-based Aunt Mid’s, did not return phone calls made by The State News on Sunday.

In a previous interview, Riggio said various forms of testing, including swabs taken from the company’s machinery and conveyor belts, showed no signs of E. coli contamination.

“All we know is that all products in our facilities and that were shipped from our facility have come back negative, as well as environmental tests,” he said.

Lyman Briggs freshman Samantha Steffen filed a lawsuit against Aunt Mid’s on Thursday in Ingham County Circuit Court after being hospitalized, according to Marler Clark, the Seattle-based law firm representing Steffen.

Steffen said a hospital bill that arrived last week and called for more than $1,600 for her Sept. 16 visit caused her to file the lawsuit. She is unsure if her parents’ insurance will cover the costs.

“I got the bill about two days ago and it was the full amount,” she said. “I don’t know if they’ve not processed it yet or didn’t cover it.”

Steffen began experiencing E. coli-related symptoms Sept. 13, but didn’t go to the hospital for treatment until she received an e-mail alerting students of a possible outbreak.

“I didn’t know what the symptoms were until that e-mail was sent out,” Steffen said.

Tests confirmed the freshman had E. coli, and Steffen hasn’t been allowed to return to work in Holmes Hall cafeteria for about a month.

“By this time, I would have made about $300, so that’s money I’m not going to have,” Steffen said.

“I pay for everything pretty much by myself out here. It’d be nice to have that money.”

Steffen did not know what compensation she plans to seek through the lawsuit.

The Ingham County Health Department told Steffen the department must clear a sample before she can go back to work. The sample must be taken after she no longer experiences any E. coli-related symptoms.

Steffen said she continues to feel nauseous.

Despite the MDA test findings, Steffen said the truth will eventually be revealed in court.

“If everyone already ate the lettuce, they wouldn’t really be able to test it,” Steffen said.

“If people are going to start doing lawsuits, (the truth is) going to come out one way or another.”

Staff writer Justin Harris contributed to this report.

Published on Sunday, October 12, 2008



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