Foodservice

Tainted Tomatoes Case Continues

Court sorting parties over salmonella outbreak that hit Sheetz

HOLLIDAYSBURG, Pa. -- A Blair County, Pa., judge heard arguments this week from several companies asking to be dropped from a civil lawsuit in which Sheetz Inc. is being sued by customers who became ill because of tainted tomatoes, reported The Altoona Mirror.

Altoona, Pa.-based Sheetz in turn is asking to be reimbursed by its tomato supplier, Coronet Foods, Wheeling, W.Va., for the money it lost.

Coronet has added additional businesses to the lawsuit that supplied it with the tomatoes. The lawsuit keeps going down the food chain [image-nocss] until it reaches the farmers who produced the tomatoes, said the report.

Judge Jolene G. Kopriva now must decide who will be included in a trial. Blair County Court Administrator Michael D. Reighard told the newspaper that no trial date has been set, and it probably won't be this year.

Attorneys for all parties have had the opportunity to review reports from the government agencies that investigated the outbreak, as well as expert reports provided by representatives of the various companies, the report said.

Kopriva presided over a three-hour hearing this week with 19 lawyers gathered in her courtroom, some representing the victims, and the rest representing Sheetz, the tomato producers and distributors. It became clear during the hearing that nobody has been able to pinpoint the source of the salmonella poisoning that sickened hundreds of Sheetz customers.

One clue presented this week seemed to point the finger at a Coronet tomato supplier, Procacci Brothers Sales Corp., Philadelphia, said the Mirror. A tomato from a container of Procacci tomatoes at a Greencastle, Pa., Sheetz store tested positive for one strain of salmonella which resulted in sickness for several customers.

Procacci attorney Robert Arcovio said he wasn't sure if the alleged container that held the tainted tomato was a Procacci box or Sheetz tub. He also said the strain of salmonella found on the Greencastle tomato was not the same that sickened a majority of the customers. You can't blame Procacci when you don't know where it [salmonella] came from, he said, according to the newspaper,

Procacci wants all of the producers and distributors attached to the lawsuit to remain. Experts have not been able to locate the problem among the farmers who supplied tomatoes to the distributors. By the time government investigators were able to trace the tomatoes to the farmers in the south, the area had been swept by several hurricanes which likely would have destroyed evidence of salmonella.

Attorney Steve Magley said he represented six Florida farmers known as Island Tomato Growers Inc., and he said the farmers are a group of southern gentlemen who will happily walk out of this party. He called Sheetz and Coronet the moving parties on the lawsuit.

Eric Anderson, the attorney for Coronet, said Procacci must remain in the case. Procacci tomatoes were the only tomatoes in the system at the time of the outbreak, he said.

Sheetz was represented by attorney Frederick Gordon of San Diego, who called the lawsuit pretty simple, at least from the Sheetz standpoint. He said Sheetz and Coronet are opposing parties.

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