Caito Foods faces lawsuit linked to recalled melons

Indianapolis-based Caito Foods LLC, which issued a voluntary recall last week of its cut melon products, now faces a lawsuit from a Kentucky woman who says she got sick after eating recalled fruit.

Cincinnati-based The Kroger Co. is named as a co-defendant in the federal suit, which was filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky.

The plaintiff, Tammy France of Louisville, alleges that she visited a Louisville Kroger store on March 22, purchasing a container of pre-cut melon produced by Caito. After eating the melon, France became ill with diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pain and was admitted to the hospital.

France was diagnosed with salmonella, which entered her bloodstream and caused her to become septic. That kept her in the hospital for a week, according to her attorney, Jory Lange Jr. of The Lange Law Firm in Houston.

“She’s recovering, but it’s been a rough road,” Lange said.

On Friday, Caito issued a voluntary recall of its cut watermelon, cut honeydew melon and cut cantaloupe, as well as mixed fruit containing one of these melons, due to potential salmonella carrau contamination in those products. 

Caito, located on North Post Road on the city’s east side, cuts, prepares and packages fruits, vegetables and other food items that it then distributes to retailers around the country.

Health officials told France that the salmonella that caused her illness was genetically linked to that found in the recalled Caito products, Lange said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 93 reported cases of illness as of April 12 linked to the pre-cut melons supplied by Caito, including 23 hospitalizations. There were no fatalities.

Reports of illness have come from nine states including Indiana. Most of the people who reported illness are over the age of 50.

The affected products were shipped to 16 states and sold at Kroger, Target, Trader Joe’s, Walmart and Whole Foods, the Food and Drug Administration says.

This is the second time within the past year that Caito has issued a recall of its cut melon products. In July 2018, the company issued a recall because of potential salmonella Adelaide contamination. That outbreak sickened 77 people in nine states. 

Caito’s corporate parent is Michigan-based SpartanNash Co. In a statement to IBJ, a company spokesperson declined to comment specifically on the lawsuit but said in general that Caito takes food safety seriously "and is committed to following strict procedures regarding product handling and the cleaning and maintenance of our facilities."

"Once we became aware of the situation, and in cooperation with federal regulators, we voluntarily recalled all fresh cut watermelon, fresh cut honeydew melon, fresh cut cantaloupe … and we have instructed our partners to do the same," said Meredith Gremel, vice president of corporate affairs and communications for SpartanNash. "We continue to cooperate fully with the regulatory agencies on this matter, including their request to help determine the farm where the fruit was grown."

IBJ requested comment from Kroger on Tuesday morning but had not received an official response by deadline.

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