December 18, 2007: Arby’s Salmonella Outbreak – A Cautionary Tale

Every year more than 76 million people in the United States suffer from a foodborne illness. There are an estimated 300,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths associated with this number. The economic costs are estimated to be $35 billion in medical expenses and lost productivity. There is no reason for Americans to suffer like this at the hands of the food industry, and it’s clear that a majority of people are fed up with this situation and demanding more accountability and safety. Food should be equated with nourishment and enjoyment, not illness and even death.

Over the next few weeks, we will tell the story of a significant Salmonella food poisoning outbreak linked to an Arby’s Restaurant on Ashley Street in Valdosta, Georgia. Although covered by the local media, the story of this outbreak and its victims should have been shared with a larger audience.

Occurring in August of 2006, the Arby’s Salmonella outbreak represents one of the first in a record number of food product and restaurant food poisoning outbreaks experienced over the past year and a half. This outbreak was part of an early signal that something has gone wrong in the food industry, and that for many and varied reasons our FDA and USDA need repair while the food industry needs proper regulation.

Apparently the public is aware of this: a recent GfK Roper poll reflects that consumer confidence in the fast food industry is down. Consumers believe that activists now best represent the interests of the American public when it comes to food safety, followed by retail grocers, food manufacturers, the U.S. government, and coming in last place – the fast food industry.

The first victim of the Arby’s outbreak in Georgia experienced symptoms of Salmonella food poisoning on August 21, 2006; the last food poisoning case linked with the outbreak was reported on November 16, 2006. The final count of Salmonella cases linked to the Arby’s outbreak was 72. Nineteen of the 72 individuals were hospitalized – a whopping 26% of those affected. The smoking gun, later identified by the Georgia health department, was a defective meat slicer and Salmonella contaminated roast beef.

The first lawsuit against Arby’s was filed on January 17, 2007, on behalf of Frances Parks, a 42-year-old Nashville nurse. Parks spent five days in the hospital, where she was diagnosed with Salmonella food poisoning. She eventually developed a bacterimia, meaning that Salmonella bacteria had entered her bloodstream, exposing every organ in her body to the dangerous pathogen. She was hospitalized on August 28, after having eaten Arby’s roast beef sandwiches on August 25 and 26.

According to a January 20, 2007, article in the Valdosta Daily Times by Kelli Hernandez, Parks initial symptoms included “an achy feeling followed by nausea and chills. Soon, Parks’ temperature rose to 101 degrees and she began vomiting, accompanied by diarrhea.”

“The pain was indescribable,” Parks said. “My body literally ached from my toes to my head. I couldn’t stand to even be touched, and I stayed like that for a good 12 to 18 hours.”

Parks and her husband decided to go to the emergency room. At that time, her temperature had reached 104.4 degrees. “Being a nurse, I knew this was wrong and it wasn’t just a typical little bug I picked up from somewhere,” Parks said.

At the hospital, Parks continued to suffer. The vomiting and diarrhea became more intense, and she was given three IV treatments over the course of eight hours. She did not eat solid food for the next three weeks, during which time she also did not work.

“I had to be fever and diarrhea-free for a full 24 hours before I could return to work, and that did not occur for three weeks,” Parks explained. “My digestive system is still messed up, and I definitely do not want to eat at any fast food restaurants now.”

According to Hernandez, “The Salmonella poisoning weakened Parks’ digestive system and digestive tract while the infection in her blood weakened her immune system. The process of rebuilding a digestive system after Salmonella poisoning can take up to six months, according to Parks.”

During her illness, Parks had to rely on her family for help. Her husband also took time off from work, and her mother came to Georgia from Florida to help the couple with their 8-year-old.

“It was horrible,” Parks said. “I wouldn’t wish that stuff on my worst enemy. It was like I thought I would just rather die than go through that stuff.”

Again according to Hernandez, Parks decided to contact attorneys Eric Weinberg and Andy Childers as a result of “the combination of weeks off of work, towering hospital bills, months of sickness and the lack of anyone taking responsibility.”

“The biggest thing was I couldn’t believe how sick I was,” Parks said. “And it blows my mind they never put any word out.”

The Law Firm of Eric Weinberg, along with co-counsel Andrew Childers of Childers, Buck, and Schlueter, currently represent 25 victims of a Salmonella food poisoning outbreak in a lawsuit against an Arby’s located in Valdosta, Georgia. If you believe that you are a victim of Salmonella food poisoning, and you have a question concerning your legal rights, please call us toll free at 1-877-934-6274, or see Free Case Evaluation. To learn more about our law firm please see Food Poisoning Lawyer.

To learn more about the Arby’s Salmonella outbreak, please see Arby’s Food Poisoning Lawsuit.