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‘Life-threatening’ E. coli infection leads to lawsuit against Hy-Vee, spinach producer

By: - November 18, 2022 2:21 pm

A South Dakota woman is suing Hy-Vee and the producer of bagged spinach that she says was contaminated with E. coli. (Photo by Linh Ta/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

A Sioux Falls woman who contracted a “life-threatening” E. coli bacterial infection has sued a California spinach producer and Hy-Vee for more than $75,000 in damages.

The lawsuit, filed this week in U.S. District Court in South Dakota, alleges that the company behind a 2021 E.coli outbreak in several states, Braga Foods, was negligent in its adherence to food safety regulations.

It also claims that Iowa-based Hy-Vee Foods, the parent company of the Sioux Falls grocery store where the woman and her partner purchased the tainted spinach last year, was negligent for failing to warn shoppers of the risk of E. coli contamination from lettuce products sold as “ready to eat.”

Karen Ahlschlager of Sioux Falls bought bags of Josie’s Organic spinach from a now-shuttered Hy-Vee store at 10th Street at Kiwanis Avenue on Oct. 17 and Oct. 23, 2021, a few weeks before the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported illnesses tied to batches of the product.

The outbreak of E. coli disease tied to Josie’s Organic spinach in November of 2021 sickened at least 10 people in seven states, according to an article published in Food Safety News.

The lawsuit says that by January 2022, 15 people from 10 states reported being sickened as a result of the tainted spinach.

Ahlschlager contracted an E. coli infection in late October 2021 that put her among the three people afflicted with a rare condition called Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome, which can cause kidney failure. Karen Ahlschlager’s illness resulted in “long-term physical impairment” after a 12-day hospital stay that included treatment for kidney damage and a blood transfusion as her condition deteriorated.

At one point, the lawsuit says, “Ms. Ahlschlager’s adult children prepared to visit her at her bedside, as the nightmare that their mother may not survive was becoming a possible reality.”

She was released after the blood transfusion on Nov. 8, but continued to experience a host of health issues well into follow-up appointments in the spring of 2022.

In the civil complaint, Ahlschlager and her husband argue that the spinach “was dangerous to an extent beyond that which is contemplated by the ordinary consumer who purchases it,” and that Braga Foods failed to properly follow food safety guidelines.

Among other claims against the Iowa-based grocer that sold the spinach, the lawsuit says Hy-Vee should have posted warnings about unwashed spinach in its stores, and failed to “properly select and screen produce suppliers.”

Representatives from Hy-Vee did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the case.

About this story

This story was originally published by South Dakota Searchlight, which is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. South Dakota Searchlight maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Seth Tupper for questions: [email protected]. Follow South Dakota Searchlight on Facebook and Twitter.

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John Hult
John Hult

John is the senior reporter for South Dakota Searchlight. He has more than 15 years experience covering criminal justice, the environment and public affairs in South Dakota, including more than a decade at the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.