MIAMI (AP) — The estate of an Illinois woman who died earlier this year of a listeria infection filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday against a Florida ice cream company that health officials have linked to a epidemic in several states.
The lawsuit filed in the Central District of Florida claims Mary Billman died after eating tainted ice cream produced by Sarasota-based Big Olaf Creamery. According to the lawsuit, Billman ate at a Big Olaf restaurant on January 18 while visiting Florida. She fell ill and died on January 29.
Online court records did not mention a lawyer for Big Olaf who could comment on the lawsuit. The company issued a statement on Sunday saying the link between its ice cream and the listeria outbreak has not been confirmed and is only speculation at this point. The company has been working with state and federal health authorities since being made aware of the possible contamination, according to the statement.
“We have been transparent and answered all of their questions and provided them with all of the information requested of us, as the health and well-being of the public is our first priority,” Big Olaf Creamery’s statement read.
Big Olaf Creamery voluntarily contacted retail outlets to recommend that they not sell their ice cream products, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a press release on Saturday. Consumers who have Big Olaf Creamery-brand ice cream at home should throw away any leftover product, officials said.
Listeria is a deadly bacteria that causes symptoms like fever, muscle aches, nausea and diarrhea. It can be treated with antibiotics, but is especially dangerous for pregnant women, newborns, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems.
CDC officials say nearly all of the 23 people known to have been infected in the outbreak are living in or have traveled to Florida about a month before falling ill. Big Olaf Creamery’s ice cream is produced at a central facility in Sarasota and then distributed to Big Olaf Creamery stores and other retailers.
Listeria is one of the most dangerous forms of food poisoning. Symptoms usually begin one to four weeks after eating contaminated food, but can start as early as the same day. The first cases occurred in January of this year, but continued until June, when two of the people fell ill, CDC officials said.