LOS ANGELES (Legal Newline) —Kroger Co. has been listed as a defendant in a recent class action lawsuit filed on behalf of customers who became ill with listeria following the ingestion of vegetables grown by Pictsweet Co. and processed by CRF Frozen Foods. 

Listeria monocytogenes grown on Listeria Selective Agar
Listeria monocytogenes grown on Listeria Selective Agar | James.folsom

According to the complaint, with the bacteria present in the bloodstream, one in five patients on average die from listeria infection.

Kroger's role in the distribution of tainted products was as a merchant, so why is it listed as a defendant in this class action suit? It is still unclear, but court documents suggest the aim might be to get financial data about customers to pay out the damages asserted in the claim. 

Kroger sold the contaminated peas in its grocery stores, although the product had been recalled, but California was not listed on its website of recall locations where Pictsweet steamable peas infected with listeria were effected. 

The man who filed suit, Roger Coffelt Jr. of Compton, Calif., bought the vegetables at a Ralph's grocery store, a name under which Kroger operates in California. 

Attorneys filing the class action suit on behalf of Coffelt could not be reached by phone or email. He is represented by attorneys Joshua Watson and Clayeo Arnold for the Arnold Law Firm in California.

Fadi Aramouni, a food science professor at Kansas State University, has served as a witness in cases involving contaminated foods, including those tainted with listeria, a naturally occurring bacteria present in most common places such as air, water, plants and animals. 

Aramoudi said illness happens because the pathogen often harms those more at risk, such as children, elderly, immunodeficient individuals and pregnant women. Also, the symptoms from listeria do not show up right away, as with other infections. It can often take weeks for people to notice.

Most of those forms of listeria, however, are not pathogenic to humans and will not cause illness. Listeria monocytogenes, however, the form that allegedly made Coffelt and his family, among others, sick, kills about 20 percent of patients diagnosed with it in their bloodstream. 

"In my opinion, it should not be present in ready-to-eat food plants," Aramoudi said. "Companies should have sanitation and monitoring programs to make sure listeria monocytogrenes are not contaminating the products."

Personal injury claims are not included in this case. It is limited to economic damages, according to court documents filed with the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. The allegations in the complaint assert that Kroger has access to customer information stored in databases for the club cards and financial institutions that can identify customers to locate those impacted. 

The suit also asserts that the source of poor packaging and production processes at CRF Frozen Foods went on for as long as three years, "possibly longer" according to the complaint, without remedy and notes that evaluating whether such practices were known by defendants may or may not actually be necessary. 

But in addition to establishing these and other elements of a liability for the breach of implied warranty of merchantability, they seek to establish any breach of standard of care "and any breach of those standards with respect to the defendant’s preparation, packaging, distribution, inspection, and sale of the subject food products." 

They also need to establish how responsible each party is for the actual financial damages sought in the suit. 

Kroger spokesman Keith Dailey said the company will not comment on the pending litigation. 

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