The widow of a man who died from a Listeria monocytogenes infection has sued Sangar Fresh Cut Produce in a Texas court.

Elizabeth Castellano claims her husband, Hermillo Castellano, died as a result of eating contaminated celery from the San Antonio-based plant.

According to the complaint, Castellano was in a hospital with a previous condition in May 2010 when he consumed Sangar chopped celery.  Three days after his discharge, Castellano began experiencing severe gastrointestinal problems and was readmitted to the hospital, where he tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes. Over the next two weeks his condition worsened, and on June 15 he died from listeriosis.

An investigation by the Texas Department of State Health Service (DSHS) into a cluster of Listeria cases, including Mr. Castellano’s, led the state last October to order Sangar Produce to stop processing food because it was “an immediate and serious threat to human life or health.”  The state also forced the company to recall all products shipped from the plant since January 2010. 

It remains closed to this day.

Texas DSHS laboratory tests of chopped celery from the plant indicated the presence of Listeria monocytogenes, according to the complaint filed in the District Court for Bexar County, Texas.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also said it found Listeria in Sangar’s processed celery and in multiple locations inside the plant.  FDA said the listeria was a DNA match to bacteria that was infecting Texans.  To date, seven illnesses including four fatalities have been attributed to Sangar celery, which was primarily sold to hospitals, nursing homes and similar institutions.

Seattle food safety attorney Bill Marler and Dallas attorney Andrew Payne, of the Payne Mitchell Law Group, are representing the Castellano family.

 “Sangar Fresh Cut Produce had a responsibility to Mr. Castellano, his wife, and anyone who was a consumer of its produce to provide a safe and unadulterated product,” said Marler in a news release.  “Unfortunately in this case, Sangar failed to do so and the results were multiple and unnecessary deaths of people like Hermillo Castellano.”

Listeriosis is a serious infection caused by eating food generally contaminated with the bacterium called Listeria monocytogenes. It is considerably dangerous and often fatal for the elderly and people who have compromised immune systems. 

In the lawsuit, the plaintiff is demanding a judgment to cover damages and costs and has requested a jury trial.