Boise lawsuit over tainted berry mix moves to federal court

Idaho StatesmanSeptember 7, 2013 

Label from the Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend, a berry and pomegranate seed mix that is subject of a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Boise.

— One of the defendants in a class action lawsuit filed in Boise over a tainted berry and pomegranate seed mix sold at Costco Wholesale stores filed this week to have the suit moved to U.S. District Court from Fourth District Ada County Court.

Purely Pomegranate of Dana Point, Calif., which supplied pomegranate seeds from Turkey that are suspected to have been tainted with hepatitis A virus, asked to have the matter heard in federal court. That could allow the consolidation of the Idaho case with similar lawsuits filed against Purely Pomegranate and Townsend Farms of Fairview, Ore., in California, Hawaii, Nevada and Colorado.

A total of 161 people became ill from hepatitis A after eating from three-pound bags of the Organic Antioxidant Blend sold by Townsend Farms of Fairview, Ore., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those sickened were from 10 states.

The largest number of those who became sick, 78, were from California. There were 28 from Colorado and 23 from Arizona. Six were from Nevada and three were from Utah. No one from Idaho became sick.

A Boise couple, Marisa and Michael Berndt, filed the Idaho lawsuit. They received vaccinations June 5, but did not come down with the illness. They feared their unborn child may have contracted hepatitis.

The mix, which includes strawberries, raspberries, cherries and pomegranate seeds, was sold by Costco stores throughout the west and by Harris Teeter Supermarkets in eight western states between February and May.

The Berndts accused Townsend Farms of negligence for failing to ensure the berry mix they purchased at the Boise Costco store on May 14 was safe to eat.

More than 330,000 bags of the frozen berry mix were sold before the problem was spotted and the product was removed. More than 10,000 Costco customers obtained hepatitis A virus vaccinations from company pharmacies, according to court documents. The number did not include vaccinations obtained from other pharmacies or from customer's doctors or hospitals.

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