The family of a 12-year-old Colorado girl has filed suit against Del Monte Fresh Produce, claiming that cantaloupe contaminated with Salmonella caused her to become so ill she required hospitalization.

The lawsuit was filed Friday in Adams County District Court on behalf of the child by the Seattle food-safety law firm Marler Clark and Colorado attorneys Montgomery, Little & Soran.

According to the complaint, the girl — identified as S.W. — ate cantaloupe that the family had purchased at Costco in early March.  She became sick with gastroenteritis on March 4, became progressively worse and was hospitalized from March 10 to 14.   S.W. is still recovering, attorney Dave Babcock said.

Results from lab tests showed the girl was infected with Salmonella Panama, a relatively rare strain that health officials said matched an outbreak strain of cases in Oregon, Washington California, and Maryland.  Investigators found almost all of the people sickened had eaten cantaloupes from Costco, which shared sales receipts that helped trace back the suspect melons to a Del Monte grower in Guatemala.  On March 22, Del Monte recalled nearly 5,000 cartons of cantaloupe.

The Thornton, Co. girl was one of at least 13 people to be sickened in the multistate outbreak of  Salmonella Panama linked to cantaloupe . So far, four people in Washington, five in  Oregon, two in California, one in Maryland and S.W. in Colorado have been confirmed to have been infected with the outbreak strain, according to the latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Del Monte had a responsibility to provide its customers with safe, healthy, unadulterated cantaloupe,” said attorney Bill Marler. “Kids should not land in the hospital because they choose to eat fruit instead of processed foods.”

Marler noted that Del Monte has initiated two previous recalls due to Salmonella contamination in the past two years.  In late 2009 the California State Department of Public Health warned consumers not to eat Del Monte cantaloupe due to Salmonella contamination and the company pulled 1,120 cartons from grocery stores.  In 2010, Michigan Department of Agriculture testing detected Salmonella on Del Monte cantaloupe, and the company recalled 81 cartons.

By nature cantaloupe is riskier than some other fruits, but with proper safety precautions Salmonella outbreaks are preventable,” added Marler.  “The onus is on businesses like Del Monte who want to sell us fruit and vegetables to make sure those products aren’t harmful to customers.”