Family files wrongful death suit against Big Olaf after listeria outbreak

Mary Billman
Mary Billman(Courtesy of the Billman Family)
Published: Jul. 5, 2022 at 4:52 PM EDT

SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - A wrongful death lawsuit has been filed against Big Olaf Creamery in Sarasota by the daughter of an Illinois woman who says she died after eating tainted ice cream in January.

The estate of Mary Billman filed the complaint for wrongful death in federal court Tuesday, charging the woman died of listeria 11 days after eating Big Olaf ice cream in Sarasota.

Last last week, the Centers for the Disease Control issued a food safety alert warning linking the Big Olaf brand to a listeria outbreak and advised customers to avoid eating Big Olaf products.

Listeria is a disease caused by eating food contaminated by bacteria.

According to the Mayo Clinic, listeria bacteria can be found in soil, water and animal feces. People can get infected by eating contaminated raw vegetables and meat, unpasteurized milk or foods made with unpasteurized milk, and certain processed foods such as soft cheeses, hot dogs and deli meats that have been contaminated after processing.

Big Olaf has pushed back against the CDC notice, saying their products have not been positively linked to the outbreak.

Billman was visiting her daughter on Jan. 18 when she ate ice cream at the company’s store on Bahia Vista Street, the suit says.

A week later, the 79-year-old woman began having gastrointestinal issues and a low-grade fever. Her symptoms persisted, and on Jan 27, she awoke to a 103-degree fever and was admitted to a hospital in South Florida.

The suit says over the next two days her organs began shutting down. She died Jan. 29.

The lawsuit claims Big Olaf was liable for selling the contaminated ice cream and demands a jury trial.

The company has published a statement on its Facebook page saying nothing has been proven and that Big Olaf has been cooperating with the Florida Department of Health and the federal Food and Drug Administration.

The full statement:

“For now, it is only speculation as it is an ongoing investigation, our brand has not been confirmed to be linked to these cases, I am not sure why only Big Olaf is being mentioned and targeted. The original report we got from the Florida Department of Health on Friday July 1st, was that there are 23 cases reported, the first one reported was January 2022. 6 out of the 23 patients mentioned having consumed Big Olaf ice cream, but nothing has been proven. We have been cooperating with the Florida Department of Health, FDACS and the FDA as soon as we were informed about the situation. We have been transparent and have answered all their questions and provided them with all the information requested from us, as the health and well-being of the public is our first priority.”

For an explanation of what listeria is and has transpired so far in this case, click here.

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