02.03.2024

Grandfather who died after eating from bacteria-riddled fast food restaurant in Washington is pictured for first time

Charles Roberson died in June after drinking a milkshake from a Frugals burger restaurant. A Washington grandfather was one of three people who died from a deadly bacterial infection after drinking a fast food milkshake.

Charles Roberson, from Yelm, Tacoma, died aged 73 on June 20 from listeria — a bacterial infection that was traced back to an ice cream machine at the burger joint Frugals.

He consumed the drink between March and April and began suffering neck and arm numbness and pain around a month later.

His wife, Linda Roberson, filed a wrongful death claim in Pierce County Superior Court on Monday, which claims Frugals was negligent in manufacturing, distributing, and selling the shakes.

Frugals has admitted that an internal investigation found the machine had not been cleaned properly.

Bill Marler, a food safety lawyer representing the Roberson family, told KOMO News: ‘This is a really sad situation. You know, a husband and wife married for 45 years. He eats a Frugal shake, becomes ill.

‘You can’t undo a death but what you can do is make everything transparent so we can learn from this unfortunate incident, to hopefully convince people to do a better job in cleaning their equipment.’

Charles Roberson with his wife Linda Roberson and one of their grandchildren

Charles Roberson with his wife Linda Roberson and one of their grandchildren

The restaurant stopped using its ice cream machines on August 8, but listeria can make people ill up to 70 days later

The restaurant stopped using its ice cream machines on August 8, but listeria can make people ill up to 70 days later

A St. Patrick's Day milkshake from Frugals in Tacoma

A St. Patrick’s Day milkshake from Frugals in Tacoma

In June, Mr Roberson was admitted to Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia with numbness and pain in his neck and arms.

He had surgery for possible neurological issues within days and was discharged to a rehabilitation center in Tacoma.

Mr Marler believes Mr Roberson’s symptoms were connected to his listeria infection, The Seattle Times reported.

Mr Roberson’s condition worsened, and he died a few weeks later at St Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma.

His spinal fluid was sent to a laboratory for genetic fingerprinting on bacteria samples, which showed Mr Roberson was positive for listeria.

Listeria is an infection normally caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium listeria monocytogenes.

Most people who eat food contaminated with Listeria will not fall seriously ill. But in some cases, it can cause confusion and seizures, miscarriage in pregnant women, and even death.

This can happen when the infection spreads beyond the gut and can affect the central nervous system, which can lead to numbness and seizures.

The restaurant stopped using its ice cream machines on August 8, but Listeria can make people ill up to 70 days later.

Officials used genetic testing of bacteria in the milkshakes to show that the Listeria strain is the same one that hospitalized six people between February 27 and July 22.

All six cases had weakened immune systems, making them less able to fight the disease. Three of them died, one of them being Mr Roberson.

Areas inside food processing equipment can allow for water accumulation and contamination, which can lead to listeria bacteria colonizing.

If the equipment is not thoroughly cleaned, the bacteria will grow, and some could end up in the food.

An Orange Creamsicle milkshake from Frugals Tacoma

Listeria bacteria was found in ice cream machines at a Frugals restaurant in Tacoma, Washington, which were used to make milkshakes served at the burger joint

Listeria bacteria was found in ice cream machines at a Frugals restaurant in Tacoma, Washington, which were used to make milkshakes served at the burger joint

Mr Maher told DailyMail.com there are ‘probably more cases coming’ due to the up to 70-day incubation period of listeria.

Listeria is an infection normally caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium listeria monocytogenes.

Most people who eat food contaminated with Listeria will not fall seriously ill. But in some cases, it can cause confusion and seizures and even lead to death.

People who are pregnant, aged 65 or older, and those with weakened immune systems are most at risk.

Officials say vulnerable people should call their health care provider if they had a Frugals’ Tacoma milkshake between May 29 and August 7, 2023, and have listeria symptoms.

In a statement posted on Facebook, Frugals said: ‘We are heartbroken and deeply regret any harm our actions could have caused.’

It announced it had stopped all sales of milkshakes at all its locations, that machines at other stores would be tested for Listeria, and the contaminated machinery would be sanitized and re-tested.

Many foods can harbor listeria, but it is usually found in unpasteurized milk, soft cheeses and ready-to-eat foods, such as prepacked sandwiches.

Listeria is widespread in the environment and can be found in raw food and soil and in the droppings of many mammals, birds, and fish.

Mild symptoms of diarrhea and vomiting typically start within 24 hours of eating contaminated food and generally last one to three days.

However, if the infection spreads beyond the gut, it becomes an invasive illness, with symptoms occurring within two weeks of eating listeria-contaminated food.

The infection is treated with antibiotics.

According to the CDC, roughly 1,600 Americans get listeria yearly and about 260 die.

Invasive illness during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery or life-threatening infection of the newborn, and almost 1 in 20 non-pregnant people with invasive listeria die.

Almost one in 20 non-pregnant people with invasive listeria die.

You can avoid listeria by washing your hands regularly with soap and water, washing fruit and vegetables before eating them, storing ready-to-eat foods as recommended by the manufacturer, and ensuring all hot food is steaming hot all the way through.

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