Applebee's faces first lawsuit over E. coli outbreak

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A Minneapolis law firm is suing the Applebee's restaurant chain on behalf of a 22-year old man who said he became ill with an E. coli infection after eating at one of its restaurants, FOX 9 reports. He's one of at least 13 people who were recently infected with a strain of E. coli in Minnesota.

Keith Comstock, 22, of Hudson, Wisconsin, said he ate at an Applebee's in Woodbury, Minnesota on June 24, and a few days later he became ill and tested positive for an E. coli infection, according to a news release from the firm, Pritzker Olsen, which specializes in food safety cases.

The Minnesota Department of Health announced Monday that 13 people were infected with the E. coli O111 strain, and seven of them said they had eaten at an Applebee’s restaurant in Minnesota between June 24 and 27. The other cases have no apparent connection to the restaurant chain.

Four of the 13 people who became ill were hospitalized, and they have all recovered or are recovering, the department says.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court Tuesday, and seeks compensation for Comstock for medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages and other damages. Pritzker told FOX 9 that he's representing several other people who also became ill after eating tainted food.

Comstock ate an Oriental chicken salad at Applebee's, and the lawsuit alleges the salad was contaminated with E. coli and made him sick. Comstock's attorney says the outbreak is also linked to Applebee's restaurants in Blaine, Duluth, Monticello and Roseville.

The Health Department says Applebee’s is cooperating with the investigation and has removed its Oriental chicken salad from menus at all Minnesota restaurants. The restaurant has also removed some ingredients of the salad from other menu items out of an abundance of caution, the health department says.

Chicken is not usually a source of E. coli outbreaks, so the likely culprit is a fresh vegetable that was in the salad, such as lettuce or carrots, Pritzker told FOX 9.

If a vegetable is to blame, that means the contamination could be far more widespread because the supplier could have shipped it to to many different restaurants or food vendors around the country, Pritzker says.

E. coli O111 is a foodborne illness that causes symptoms such as stomach cramps, vomiting and bloody diarrhea. The health department says people usually become sick two to five days after being exposed to it.

Health officials are working with Applebee’s, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and other agencies to track down the source of the outbreak.

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