This past weekend, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a statement recommending that consumers who have purchased products from Sarasota's Big Olaf Creamery, as well as retailers that carry Big Olaf ice cream, should dispose of them because of a possible connection with a multi-state listeria outbreak. According to the CDC, the outbreak currently consists of 23 individuals who reported having listeriosis, one of whom has died. All had lived in or visited Florida within one month of reporting symptoms.
According to the CDC, listeriosis is "a serious infection usually caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria moncytogenes. An estimated 1,600 people get listeriosis each year, and about 260 die. The infection is most likely to sicken pregnant women and their newborns, adults aged 65 or older, and people with weakened immune systems."
Six of the patients who were interviewed by the CDC reported eating Big Olaf ice cream, which has triggered an investigation of the creamery's products. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has collected samples from Big Olaf Creamery and is currently testing them for the bacteria.
On Tuesday, a lawsuit against Big Olaf Creamery was filed in federal court on behalf of the estate of Mary Billman, an Illinois resident who died from the listeria outbreak. The lawsuit alleges that Billman visited Big Olaf's Pinecraft location on Jan. 18 and exhibited "gastrointestinal symptoms and a low-grade fever" one week later. She died on Jan. 29.
The Minneapolis law firm OFT Law, meanwhile, has been retained in connection with another case in which a pregnant woman lost her baby in a listeria case allegedly connected to the outbreak, according to a statement. That lawsuit has not yet been filed.
A statement released by Big Olaf on its Instagram account calls the company's connection to the listeria outbreak "speculation" that is part of "an ongoing investigation."
The statement goes on to say, "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. [...] 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."
Some individual retailers of the creamery's products remain open, including Big Olaf on Siesta Key and St. Armands Circle. In a Facebook post, the St. Armands Circle location wrote that "misinformation by the media" has caused "customers to get harassed and threatened" and called the situation "very sad and unfair."
Big Olaf is a Sarasota institution that thousands of residents and tourists have fond memories of visiting. The company began production in 1982 and remains a family-owned and -operated business. According to its website, Big Olaf products are sold to ice cream parlors, senior homes, restaurants, fairs and supermarkets.