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Seattle Woman Sues Forever Cheese and Distributor

A Seattle woman who spent the better part of two weeks in the intensive care unit as doctors worked to find the right antibiotic regimen to combat the Listeria infection she attributes to contaminated cheese is suing the company and its distributor.

Named as defendants in the complaint are New York-based Forever Cheese, importer of the Marte brand Frescolina Ricotta Salata cheese that public health officials say is the source of a Listeria outbreak that has affected 15 people to date, and a Washington state distributor called the Peterson Company.

The woman, Merrill West Behnke, is represented by the nationally known food injury law firm of Marler Clark, which also underwrites Food Safety News. The law firm, also based in Seattle, filed the lawsuit on Ms. Behnke’s behalf in King County Superior Court.

The complaint alleges that Ms. Behnke consumed ricotta salata cheese on August 25, 2012 and fell ill with the first symptom of Listeria infection, a headache, on August 28. The next day, Ms. Behnke began experiencing severe neck and back pains accompanied by a 102 degree fever. Her husband took her to an urgent care clinic, where a lumbar puncture and CT scan confirmed that she had meningitis.

Although serum from a lumbar puncture the day of her admission tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes bacteria one week into her hospitalization, Ms. Behnke spent part of the two weeks she was hospitalized in the intensive care unit while physicians attempted to find the right antibiotics to combat her infection.

Ms. Behnke was discharged from the hospital September 13 and has continued to receive antibiotics six times daily since her discharge from the hospital. According to the complaint, the Listeria bacteria isolated from Ms. Behnke’s serum sample was genetically indistinguishable from the strain isolated from Marte brand Frescolina ricotta salata cheese.

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