After it was connected to a nine-state E. coli outbreak, Iowa-based chain Pizza Ranch now faces a lawsuit related to the public health crisis. Food safety attorneys Elliot Olsen and Ryan Osterholm filed the suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas on Thursday, taking action for plaintiff Richard Simmons Jr.
Simmons is suing Pizza Ranch on behalf of his 7-year-old daughter, claiming the child contracted E. coli after dining at an Emporia, Kan., location in January. After eating "food from the buffet including, but not limited to fried chicken, pizza, breadsticks, salad, and dessert pizza," Simmons's daughter began feeling ill and eventually was diagnosed with E. coli following a stool sample, according to the initial court filing. She was hospitalized from February 12 to February 27 while recovering from kidney failure.
Simmons is requesting a jury trial and compensation in the form of a sum greater than $75,000. Announcing the suit, Olsen said the incident is an example of what can happen when a restaurant chain doesn't ensure the quality of its product.
'A large chain restaurant has the capacity to make a lot of people ill at once.'
"This outbreak highlights the need for stringent food safety controls in any restaurant but especially those chains that serve a large and geographically diverse population," Olsen said in a prepared statement. "A large chain restaurant has the capacity to make a lot of people ill at once."
A spokesperson for the Centers for Disease Control told the Des Moines Register 13 people were sickened in the outbreak, two were sent to hospitals, and there were no deaths. An investigation into the chain focused on a dry dough mixture used in desserts, but no bacteria were found in lab samples. The outbreak reportedly ended after Pizza Ranch stopped using the product in February. Pizza Ranch chief administrative officer Ryan Achterhoff blamed the crisis on one of the chain's suppliers.
"The fact pattern shows that the source of bacteria originated from an outside supplier rather than at our restaurants," Achterhoff said in a prepared statement Wednesday. "Several states collected products from Pizza Ranch restaurant locations to test for the presence of E.coli O157, though it was not found in any products tested. Pizza Ranch independently ran over 40 tests on different products to test for the presence of E. coli O157, and it was not found in any products tested. We provided public health investigators with a list of all of our ingredients as well as contact information for our ingredient suppliers. We also contacted the supplier of our dough mixes regarding this issue with the request that they cooperate with state and federal health officials."
Update: March 18, 10:45 a.m. Reached for comment via email, Pizza Ranch provided Eater the following statement.
"We're very concerned whenever there's a question about the quality of our food. That's why we acted proactively in early February when we first learned of a possible issue with one of our ingredients and why we take today's filing very seriously. We are thankful that the CDC has determined that this outbreak is ended; our commitment to the safety of our guests and to the wholesomeness of every meal we serve is unwavering."
Pizza Ranch operates more than 180 restaurants in 13 states. See the initial court filing for the lawsuit below.