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Family of sickened girl sues over tainted beef

June 16, 2007|Abigail Goldman | Times Staff Writer

The family of a 4-year-old Hemet girl is suing the Vernon-based maker of recalled ground beef believed to have sickened at least 14 people in April and May, including the girl.

Lawrence Fournier and Cynthia Centura say their daughter was hospitalized for three weeks with life-threatening complications of E. coli contamination, including kidney failure, after eating spaghetti sauce made with beef that tested positive for the bacteria.

The family is seeking unspecified damages from United Food Group, which this month voluntarily recalled 5.7 million pounds of fresh and frozen ground beef.

In a statement Friday, United Food said it had not yet been able to review the lawsuit.

"United Food Group remains deeply sorry that any illnesses may have resulted from the recalled product," the company said.

Centura bought the beef at a Stater Bros. Market in Hemet on April 21 and served it in the sauce to the girl that same day, according to the suit filed Thursday in Riverside Superior Court.

Within a few days, Lauren Fournier became severely ill with cramps, bloody diarrhea, dehydration and hemolytic uremic syndrome, a digestive system infection that destroys red blood cells, which caused her kidneys to fail, the lawsuit contends.

The girl required eight rounds of dialysis and five blood transfusions, according to the suit.

Hospital tests confirmed that she was sickened by a potentially deadly strain of the \o7E. coli\f7 bacteria, the suit said. The bacteria, also identified in bagged spinach last year that sickened hundreds and killed one, is particularly dangerous for young children, senior citizens and those with compromised immune systems.

Most of the beef affected by the recall was marked for sale between April 15 and May 6; recalled frozen patties had sell-by dates from Aug. 6 to Jan 20.

The beef was distributed in 18 grocery chains across 11 Western states. The U.S. Department of Agriculture said all of the more than 50 kinds of recalled beef products had "EST. 1241" inside the USDA mark of inspection or printed on the package.

United Food Group said customers with questions should call (800) 325-4164, or check the company's website: www.unitedfoodgrouprecall.com.

abigail.goldman@latimes.com

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