Legal update: Contaminated pastries from Rhode Island bakery kill two, dozens sickened

What you need to know about your legal rights when it comes to commercially-prepared foods and protecting your family from foodborne pathogens

Two elderly people in Rhode Island have died since March and dozens of other people have been seriously sickened due to apparent Salmonellosis infections after they ate pastries from a bakery that didn’t properly refrigerate the pastry ingredients.

The incident is another in a series of food poisoning cases that occasionally occur across the nation, providing an excellent reminder that we all have to be vigilant about the food we buy and feed to our families.

The Rhode Island case involves the sale and consumption of special cream-filled holiday pastries from DeFusco’s Bakery in Johnston, R.I., according to a story earlier this week in The Boston Globe. Lawsuits have already been filed on behalf of at least 18 victims who ate the pastries and were sickened, the story said.

Image credit: ©

Image credit: ©

The pastries were apparently infected with Salmonella bacteria, which cause diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps within 12 to 72 hours after infection.

The bakery was ordered to stay closed by state health inspectors last month after inspectors found “many food-safety violations at the bakery, including two unrefrigerated buckets of custard used for the pastries, pastry shells in cardboard boxes that previously held raw eggs, and utensils and equipment that weren’t being sanitized,” according to a story in The Providence (R.I.) Journal.

The Rhode Island health department investigation into the spreading illness reports in March and April quickly determined that the illnesses were related to pastries that came from the bakery, according to a press release from the agency.

The agency issued a recall of all baked goods from the bakery beginning on March 25 and listed all of the Rhode Island stores, restaurants and other organizations that sold the special zeppole cream-filled pastries.

At least 79 cases of related illnesses were reported, including one in Massachusetts, from March 14 through April 7 of this year, according to the agency. Thirty of the victims were hospitalized. Forty-eight victims were confirmed by lab tests to have suffered salmonella poisoning, the agency reported. Two of the victims – both elderly – died.

The pastries were also distributed and sold in other bakeries, according to the agency.

Salmonella infections can be very serious, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Ga.

About 40,000 cases of salmonellosis are reported in the United States each year, leading to about 400 deaths annually, according to the CDC.

Young children, the elderly and people with immune system weaknesses are most likely to suffer severe infections, according to the CDC.

“Salmonella are usually transmitted to humans by eating foods contaminated with animal feces,” according to the CDC. “Contaminated foods usually look and smell normal. Contaminated foods are often of animal origin, such as beef, poultry, milk, or eggs, but any food, including vegetables, may become contaminated. Thorough cooking kills Salmonella. Food may also become contaminated by the hands of an infected food handler who did not wash hands with soap after using the bathroom.”

To prevent Salmonella, the Vermont Department of Health recommends these basic guidelines:

  • Always thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water before eating, before and after preparing food, and after using the toilet, changing diapers or playing with pets.
  • Make sure all food products from animal sources are thoroughly cooked, especially poultry and egg products. Egg yolks should be firm. Meat and poultry products should not be pink.
  • Do not eat raw or cracked eggs, unpasteurized milk, cheese made with unpasteurized milk, or any other unpasteurized dairy products. Leftovers should be promptly refrigerated and thoroughly reheated.
  • Avoid contaminating any food that will not be cooked with food products from animal sources. For example, wash your hands and all utensils and surfaces that have been in contact with raw poultry before you make a salad. Stuffing should never be stored in poultry
  • When caring for a person with Salmonella, promptly and properly dispose of, or launder, any material that becomes contaminated with stool. Thoroughly wash your hands after such contact.
  • Young children and other people with special needs may require extra help with hand washing after using the toilet.

Salmonella, of course, isn’t the only foodborne pathogen that can hurt you.

An E.coli 0157:H7 outbreak in late 2006 killed three people and sickened at least 200 others (confirmed cases, not including people who didn’t seek medical attention) after they ate fresh spinach which was contaminated, according to the CDC.

Part of the problem in the Rhode Island cases, according to a story in The Providence Journal, is that there are only seven food inspectors in the state’s Office of Food Protection – and they have to cover some 8,000 food-related businesses, from restaurants to grocery stores to bakeries, cafeterias, farm stands and more.

“And as news reports continued about people who fell gravely ill, some began asking whether Rhode Island is investing enough money in food inspections,” The Providence Journal story reported.

That’s not uncommon to have state agencies that are pushed to their limits with responsibilities, especially in the tough state budget climates that are being seen across the nation.

What this all means is that we all have to be even more careful about the food we buy to be sure it is safe for our families.

At the same time, if you or someone in your family is ever seriously sickened and hospitalized due to food they have eaten from a commercial food outlet, whether it be a restaurant, bar, grocery store or other source, then it would be wise to protect your legal rights and speak with a qualified, caring and compassionate attorney to review your case.

Food poisoning can be a very serious illness and if not treated quickly, it can lead to much more severe health problems or even death.

We here at MyPhillyLawyer stand ready to assist you. Call us and talk with us about your case.