Beasley Allen attorney Ben Locklar filed a lawsuit on behalf of families whose children were exposed to E. coli bacteria after consuming Chicken McNuggets Happy Meals at the McDonald’s in Ashland, Alabama. Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) investigators inspected the restaurant and found numerous serious violations and an environment ripe for cross-contamination. The lawsuit names Deck Foods, Inc. and MD Foods, LLC as defendants.
“Our clients, like many others who visited the restaurant during the end of March and beginning of April, expected the food they purchased for their children from McDonald’s to be safe, but it wasn’t.,” said Beasley Allen attorney Ben Locklar. “After eating Chicken McNuggets Happy Meals, our clients’ children became ill, resulting in four of the children being hospitalized with a potentially life-threatening condition.”
The six children from different families developed symptoms consistent with E. coli exposure. Five of the six tested positive for the bacteria after eating at the restaurant around the end of March and beginning of April this year. Four of the six children were admitted to Children’s Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama, after experiencing severe adverse effects, including hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) due to E. coli exposure.
Research shows that many people are exposed to E. coli in this country each year, but the number of diagnosed cases of HUS is very low. For example, in 2022, 106 Shigatoxic E. coli cases have been entered by Alabama officials in a national database, with only about 10 percent of those cases resulting in HUS. The fact that four of the six children involved in the lawsuit were diagnosed with HUS may indicate that others developed symptoms consistent with E. coli exposure.
While people can be exposed to E. coli from eating food, E. coli may also be transferred from person to person, especially among children and daycare workers. Others may have had the symptoms of exposure but did not eat at the restaurant. This very situation is believed to be the case in the outbreak in three northern states where the source of the exposure was traced to Wendy’s’ restaurants, but not all people that had symptoms ate food from those restaurants.
In recent years, McDonald’s switched its hamburger patties from frozen to fresh over the concerns of franchise owners and others that changing its products could increase the risk of cross-contamination. The plaintiffs allege that “[c]ontamination of meat…is the main transmission route of E. coli.” Without following specific safety protocols, E. coli carried by the meat for the patties could be transferred to other food products, such as McNuggets, especially where those foods are prepared in close proximity or where food preparers handle both beef and chicken.
ADPH investigators’ findings support the likelihood of cross-contamination at the Ashland McDonald’s. The agency launched the probe after it was notified of E. coli-positive samples collected from two children. Investigators visited the restaurant and found several violations, including improper handwashing, improper food-management practices, and improper glove-wearing.
Additionally, the samples collected from the children that were E. coli-positive revealed they likely had a common source. During the time that the six children ate Happy Meals from the Ashland McDonald’s, several employees called in sick from work, with at least three having symptoms that may also have been consistent with exposure to E. coli. It is unknown at this time if these employees were tested or had symptoms consistent with E. coli exposure.
The case is Puckett, et. al. v. DECK Foods, Inc., et. al., filed in the Circuit Court of Calhoun County, Alabama, case number 11-CV-2022-900498.00.