The estate of an Illinois woman who died of a listeria infection earlier this year filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against a Florida ice cream company that health officials have linked to a multi-state outbreak.
The lawsuit filed in Florida’s Middle District alleges Mary Billman died after eating contaminated ice cream produced by Sarasota’s Big Olaf Creamery. According to the lawsuit, Billman ate at a Big Olaf location on Jan. 18 while visiting Florida. She fell ill and died on January 29.
Online court records did not list a lawyer for Big Olaf to comment on the lawsuit. The company released a statement on Sunday saying that the link between its ice cream and the listeria outbreak has not been confirmed and is just speculation at this point. The company has been working with state and federal health officials since it was notified of the potential contamination, the statement said.
“We have been transparent and have answered all of their questions and provided them with any information requested from us, as the health and well-being of the public is our number one priority,” said Big Olaf Creamery’s statement.
Big Olaf Creamery has voluntarily contacted retail locations to advise against selling their ice cream products, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a press release Saturday. Consumers who have Big Olaf Creamery-branded ice cream at home should throw away the leftover product, officials said.
Listeria is a deadly bacteria that causes symptoms such as fever, muscle aches, nausea and diarrhea. It can be treated with antibiotics, but it is especially dangerous for pregnant women, newborns, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems.
CDC officials say nearly all 23 people known to have been infected during the outbreak live in Florida or traveled to Florida about a month before becoming ill. Big Olaf Creamery’s ice cream is produced at a central Sarasota facility and then distributed to Big Olaf Creamery stores and other retailers.
Listeria is one of the most dangerous forms of food poisoning. Symptoms usually start one to four weeks after eating contaminated food, but can start as early as the same day. The first cases occurred in January this year, but continued until June, when two of the people became ill, CDC officials said.