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Image: JoNel Aleccia
By JoNel Aleccia Health writer
updated 8/27/2010 8:29:58 AM ET 2010-08-27T12:29:58

Weeks after contracting a serious salmonella infection tied to a nationwide recall of tainted eggs, Tanja Dzinovic hasn’t fully recovered.

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Sure, the 27-year-old saleswoman from Pleasant Prairie, Wis., is over the worst symptoms that developed within days of eating a Cobb salad at a Kenosha, Wis., restaurant now linked to an Iowa egg farm.

The crippling stomach cramps have stopped and she’s no longer dehydrated. She’s done feeling like she has a killer case of the flu, and she’s no longer making endless trips to the bathroom.

“It was just unbearable,” said Dzinovic, who got sick in mid-June and was briefly hospitalized. “It lasted for a week.”

But Dzinovic, who filed the first lawsuit in connection with the outbreak, still gets queasy at the sight of eggs, and she can’t seem to keep anything down.

Worse than that, though, is the feeling that she was only one of thousands of people possibly sickened by businesses that shipped out 550 million bad eggs.

“I think it’s disturbing,” said Dzinovic. “It’s in their hands, what society is eating.”

Dzinovic first sued Baker Street Restaurant and Pub in July after medical tests confirmed she was part of a cluster of at least 30 local cases of salmonella enteritidis that closed the restaurant for a week and prompted an investigation. She's not sure whether it was the Cobb salad she ate or the bowl of chicken dumpling soup.

Story: Scared straight? Recalls change how we eat — briefly

E-mails confirm egg connection
In August, however, she learned that her illness was caused by the same strain of salmonella genetically linked to a massive recall of tainted eggs. Her lawyers, representing the Seattle food safety law firm Marler Clark, quickly amended the suit to include Wright County Egg, one of two Iowa farms at the center of the outbreak.

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Indeed, e-mails exchanged among local and state health officials in Wisconsin note that they confirmed a tie between Wright County Egg and the local supplier of eggs to the Baker Street Restaurant a full week before federal Food and Drug Administration officials urged the Iowa farm to launch a nationwide recall.

“Thanks to your work, we were able to link the eggs from Baker Street to a large firm in Iowa,” John R. Archer, an epidemiologist with the Wisconsin Division of Public Health, wrote in an e-mail to investigators on Aug. 6. “ … I think the important thing in this case is that they may have had the contaminated eggs in their kitchen.”

Since then, Dzinovic has been surprised to find herself at the center of a rapidly expanding food safety storm. She declined to have photographs taken because she doesn’t want to be further identified with the outbreak.

“I already feel like I’m the poster child for salmonella,” she said.

Dzinovic’s lawsuit seeks damages for past and future suffering, medical expenses and other common costs. More than that, Dzinovic worries that while she’s a young, healthy woman, infections like the one she suffered could seriously harm an elderly person or a child.

She hopes legal action will spur changes in the food safety system that will prevent mass illnesses from occurring.

“Of course, sometimes they’re going to mess up, nobody’s perfect,” she said. “But 550 million eggs? Let’s get real. Let’s take more precautions.”

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