A multidistrict litigation (MDL) court has dismissed the claims of 16 plaintiffs who alleged that they or their minor children became ill as a result of eating peanut butter contaminated with Salmonella. In re ConAgra Peanut Butter Prods. Liab. Litig., MDL No. 1845 (U.S. Dist. Ct., N.D. Ga., Atlanta Div., decided September 29, 2010). According to the court, “The best way to show that peanut butter is contaminated with Salmonella is to test the peanut butter itself. The fact that the peanut butter was recalled does not mean that it was contaminated. In fact, most of the recalled peanut butter was free of Salmonella contamination.”

Noting that the plaintiffs could also use circumstantial evidence to show that they ate contaminated peanut butter, the court determined that these plaintiffs could not show that the peanut butter they ate was made at the affected plant during the outbreak period (by means of a product code stamped on the jar lid—apparently none of them saved the jar lid). They also could not show that they contracted Salmonellosis shortly after eating the peanut butter (by means of a positive blood, urine or stool sample or a differential diagnosis by a physician).  

As to plaintiff Patricia Ladd, the court refused to grant ConAgra’s motion for summary judgment. This plaintiff identified a product that was produced at the affected plant and tested positive for roundworm, which can cause similar symptoms, but her symptoms persisted long after treatment for that problem. Her doctor completed a differential diagnosis “and believes ‘with reasonable medical probability’ that contaminated peanut butter caused Ladd’s illness.” According to the court, this testimony was sufficient to create a genuine issue of fact as to causation.