- A woman suffered a stillbirth after consuming listeria-contaminated spinach, a lawsuit claims.
- Listeria can cause listeriosis, which is more common, and more dangerous, in pregnancy.
- About 22% of cases of listeriosis in pregnancy result in stillbirth or newborn death.
A Philadelphia woman who suffered a stillbirth says the baby spinach she added to her smoothies a few days prior is to blame, according to a new lawsuit.
The spinach, made by Fresh Express, was contaminated with Listeria, although the woman didn’t know that at the time, the lawsuit says.
Listeria, a bacteria that causes the disease Listeriosis, is far more likely — and much more dangerous — in pregnancy, and is a known cause of pregnancy loss, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
The woman, identified by NBC News as 25-year-old Mecca Shabazz, is suing Fresh Express and the grocery store for “wrongful death of the unborn child, and bodily injury and emotional stress to the expectant mother,” the law firm’s press release says.
“In addition to the tragic loss of this baby, we are fighting to raise awareness with the public who blindly relies upon food manufacturers and distributors to provide clean, safe and uncontaminated food products,” attorney Julianna Merback Burdo, a partner in Wapner Newman’s Catastrophic Injury Practice, said in the release.
“Safety within the food chain must start with those who process, package, transport and sell us food,” Merback Burdo added.
Shabazz was quarantining at home with COVID-19 when she consumed the spinach
Shabazz, then over 30 weeks pregnant, went to the hospital with flu-like symptoms on December 11, 2021. Doctors confirmed the fetus was healthy and sent her home to quarantine, the press release says.
While resting, her grandmother purchased Fresh Express baby spinach from Fresh Grocer for Shabazz to use in smoothies.
On December 15, Shabazz returned to the hospital with bleeding and painful contractions. There, providers found no fetal movement or heartbeat, and Shabazz delivered the stillborn baby the same day, the lawsuit says.
An autopsy confirmed the sole cause of death was due to Listeria.
Five days later, Fresh Express announced a “precautionary recall” on its leafy greens days due to a listeria outbreak in Pennsylvania and other states. The recall included the baby spinach the mother consumed, according to the suit.
The baby would have been Shabazz and her husband’s first. “This baby could have been born the day before this spinach was consumed and survived and thrived,” Burdo told NBC.
Fresh Express and its parent company, Chiquita Brands International, did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
Listeria is dangerous in pregnancy
Listeria is a “big issue in pregnancy” and known cause of stillbirth, Dr. Stephanie Ros, an OB-GYN and maternal-fetal medicine specialist in Florida, told Insider.
That’s why pregnant women are advised to stay away from foods that are more likely to be affected by it, like deli meat, soft cheese, and raw sprouts. Spinach is not a food pregnant people are typically told to avoid; in fact, it is encouraged as a great source of folic acid, which can help prevent miscarriages.
While healthy people who accidentally consume listeria-infected foods don’t usually get sick, people with compromised immune systems, including those who are pregnant, are more likely to get listeriosis and to get seriously ill from it, according to the Society for Maternal- Fetal Medicine.
Specifically, pregnant women are 20 times more likely to become infected than non-pregnant healthy adults, and about 17% of pregnant patients get listeriosis.
The infection can pass to the fetus, and can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature labor, and low birth weight, the organization reports.
Newborns with Listeriosis who survive birth can suffer from respiratory issues, fever, rash, lethargy, and even death.
Pregnant women who have Listeriosis with symptoms including fever should be treated with IV antibiotics, ACOG says.