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Lawsuit Filed Against Pepper Producer

A lawsuit was filed last week on behalf of the family of Donna Pierce, a 69-year-old woman from Hayward, CA who died after consuming Salmonella-contaminated white pepper in April 2009. The suit was filed by Marler Clark, the Seattle-based foodborne illness law firm, against U.F. International Food, the company who produced the spices, as well as other companies that sold and distributed the white pepper.

According to the claim, Pierce consumed white pepper during her stay at Kaiser Permanente in Hayward, CA for a February 2009 lobectomy (lung surgery). The white pepper was manufactured, distributed, and sold by U.F. Union International Food, Inc.

On March 3, three days after her discharge from Kaiser, Pierce began to experience severe abdominal pain. She returned to the hospital later that day and was ultimately diagnosed with a Salmonella infection. Over the next few days, her condition steadily worsened, and she succumbed to her infection on April 9, 2009.

“Every preventable loss of life is a tragedy,” said Drew Falkenstein, attorney for Tamara Lucier, the victim’s daughter. “We can’t reverse that, but we can do everything possible to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. A big part of that is holding those responsible accountable for the safety of their products.”

Health officials eventually determined that the strain of Salmonella that had infected Ms. Pierce was Salmonella rissen, having a genetic fingerprint that was an exact match to the strain involved in the outbreak inked to white pepper produced by U.F. Union International Food.

The Union International Food Salmonella outbreak sickened more than 79 people in four Western states, the majority in California, between December 2008 and April 2009. Public health officials ultimately traced the outbreak to white pepper manufactured, distributed, and sold under several brand names by Union International.

On March 28, 2009, Union International Food voluntarily recalled pepper and a variety of other products repackaged in its facility due to potential Salmonella contamination. The products subject to the recall were packaged and sold under the Lian How and Uncle Chen brand names in various size containers.           

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