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Published: Friday, 2/23/2007

Pennsylvania family sues firm over death of relative


PITTSBURGH - A Pennsylvania family has filed suit against ConAgra Foods Inc., claiming that a relative died Jan. 30 of salmonella poisoning after eating tainted peanut butter.

If true, the 76-year-old woman would be the first fatality linked to the nationwide recall of Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butter.

So far there's no proof that Roberta Barkay of Ellwood City, Pa., even had salmonella poisoning. Any salmonella poisoning diagnosis must be reported to state officials and yesterday Department of Health spokesman Richard McGarvey said, "We don't know anything about this case."

Rob Peirce, the family's attorney, said there is compelling circumstantial evidence to support their claim. He says Mrs. Barkay and her husband, William, bought Peter Pan peanut butter in Youngstown, Ohio, in November.

Not long after, Mr. Barkay, 84, fell ill with "severe gastrointestinal problems" including diarrhea, nausea, and pain and was hospitalized.

Then, in January, Mrs. Barkay developed similar symptoms and went into the hospital with severe dehydration. While in the hospital, she developed a bacterial infection and died.

A week later, the Barkays' daughter, Alana Laird, arrived from Arizona for her mother's funeral. During her visit, she ate some of the peanut butter and fell ill after returning to Arizona.

The family didn't connect their illnesses to the peanut butter, Mr. Peirce said, until the news media began reporting the peanut butter-salmonella connection nationwide. They then confirmed that their peanut butter was part of the recalled batch.

Mrs. Barkay apparently was not tested for salmonella poisoning during her hospital stay.

Stephanie Childs, a spokesman for Omaha, Neb.-based ConAgra, said the firm had not seen the lawsuit and cannot comment.

About 300 people have been stricken by the salmonella infection that has been linked to Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butter displaying a product code on the lid that begins with the number "2111."

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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