A dream team of world-class food safety experts is ready to go on behalf of the victims and their family members, according to the mammoth 501-page lawsuit dropped on Tiger Brands this past Thursday by South African trial lawyer Richard Spoor.

In the complaint, seeking $2 billion in damages in the worst listeria outbreak in history, Spoor discloses who he has already enlisted to assist the High Court of South Africa with the scientifically complicated case.

Top of the list is American food safety attorney Bill Marler, who Spoor previously announced would be consulting on the case.

“Mr. Marler is an accomplished trial attorney and national expert in food safety, ” Spoor says in court documents. “Mr. Marler has become the most prominent foodborne illness lawyer in America and a major force in food policy in the U.S. and around the world. Marler Clark, The Food Safety Law Firm, has represented tens of thousands of individuals in claims against food companies whose contaminated products have caused life-altering injury and even death.”

Court documents also show that together, Spoor and Marler have enlisted these experts:

  • Professor David Coetzee of the Division of Public Health Medicine at the School of Public Health and Family Medicine at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. He is a public health specialist with 25 years of experience in infectious diseases.
  • Professor Chris Griffith, an independent consultant on aspects of food quality and safety and editor of the British Food Journal.
  • Kevin Elfering, with Rio Rancho, NM-based Southwest Food Safety Systems, an expert on traceback investigations of food products involved in foodborne illnesses investigations. He previously headed Minnesota’s Food Inspection Division.
  • Professor Jorgen Schlundt of the Food Science and Technology division of Nanyang Technological University; Professor, Food Science and Technology, Nanyang Technological University Director, NTU Food Technology Centre (NAFTEC), Singapore.
  • Dr. Mansour Samadpour, the CEO of IEH Laboratories & Consulting Group.
  • Professor Martin Wiedmann, the Gellert Family Professor in Food Safety of the Department of Food Science at Cornell University.
  • Professor Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota.
  • Professor Craig Hedberg of the Division of Environmental Health Science at the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota.

The ongoing listeria outbreak stretches back 15 months, a period when South Africa has confirmed 982 cases of listeriosis with 189 deaths. The food source was bologna or “polony” as it is known in South Africa. Enterprise Foods, a unit of Tiger Brands, produced it in Polokwane, SA.

Spoor is a widely known attorney in South Africa, most recently for representing as many as 30,000 mineworkers who contracted silicosis in one of the most significant class actions ever certified in South Africa.

In the class action against Tiger Brands, Spoor wants the court to certify four separate victim classes. They are:

  • First Class — Those who personally consumed contaminated processed meat products and fell ill.
  • Second Class — Childen whose mothers consumed contaminated processed meat products while pregnant and passed the infections to them in utero, causing harm at birth.
  • Third Class –Dependents of people who died from eating contaminated processed meat products.
  • Fourth Class — Individuals liable for the care of persons from eating contaminated processed meat. Their duty to care for others who fell ill from consuming the contaminated meat products causes them to suffer damages.

The class action “applicants” listed in the lawsuit illustrate how the classes will be applied if the court goes along with the plan. “The applicants are among the many victims of the epidemic. Each applicant has suffered profound loss as a result of the epidemic,” writes Spoor.

“Some contracted and survived listeriosis. Others lost family members. Some applicants are parents, whose newborn babies contracted serious illnesses that will haunt them for life. Other applicants are parents whose babies were stillborn as a direct result of listeriosis.”

Tiger Foods has acknowledged receipt of the class action but has not yet responded to it.

Spoor frames the case against the meat processor in stark terms.

“Those who profit from the preparation and distribution of food products have a duty to take reasonable measures to avoid their foodstuffs being contaminated with pathogens, ” he says. “The production of food in general, and ready-to-eat foods, in particular, involves immense public trust. At the heart of this case is the respondents’ breach of this trust and the consequences of the breach.

“The respondents make substantial profits from preparing and distributing processed, ready-to-eat meat products, such as polony, Russian sausages, and Vienna sausages. The respondents’ products are popular. This is especially so among poor people because the products provide a relatively inexpensive source of protein.”

Editor’s Note:  Bill Marler is also the publisher of Food Safety News.