Frugals faces fees, lawsuit from deadly listeria outbreak linked to milkshakes



(The Center Square) – A Frugals restaurant location faces increased scrutiny from the local health department and one lawsuit so far after three people died from listeria traced back to milkshakes they drank at the restaurant’s Tacoma, Washington location.

“We do not fine food establishments,” explained Kenny Via, public information officer with the Tacoma-Pierce County Department of Health, in an email to The Center Square. “We charge fees for the services we provide and the amount of time we spend on the work to cover our costs.”

He said the amount of the fee is “Yet to be determined.”

The department will be keeping an eye on Frugals in Tacoma.

“If a food establishment needs more inspection time and oversight because of repeated high-risk issues or a confirmed outbreak, we try to conduct more frequent inspections for a period of time, Via said.

He concluded, “We will continue to work with Frugals on their food-safety processes through consultation and inspections.”

The restaurant faces potential legal trouble as well.

A wrongful death claim was filed in Pierce County Monday stating Frugals was negligent in manufacturing, distributing and selling the shakes, KOMO News reported. Charles Roberson of Yelm experienced neck and arm numbness and pain after drinking a Frugals milkshake, and later died.

The Washington State Department of Health confirmed on Friday that Listeria – a foodborne bacterial illness – was found in all of the milkshake flavors at the Tacoma restaurant.

“Investigators found Listeria in the ice cream machines, which were not cleaned correctly,” the department said in a news release. “No other Frugals restaurants are believed to be affected.”

In addition to the three deaths, three other people were hospitalized.

The six people, ranging in age from 40 to 79, were hospitalized between Feb. 27 and July 22, according to the health department, and include five people in Pierce County and one man in Thurston County.

“All six people had conditions that made their immune systems less able to fight the disease,” the department said, noting that they all consumed milkshakes at the Tacoma Frugals before getting sick.

Listeria can also be very serious for pregnant women and those over 65. It’s most commonly caused by eating improperly processed deli meats and unpasteurized milk products.

People can become infected with Listeria for up to 70 days after being exposed to the bacteria, the health department warned.

Frugals, which has five locations in Washington and three in Montana, issued a statement on Friday expressing regret and said it was working with authorities to address the situation.

“Today, we were deeply saddened to learn the Washington State Department of Health is reporting six people were hospitalized with foodborne listeriosis and three people later died,” the statement said. “We are heartbroken and deeply regret any harm our actions could have caused.”

The statement went on to say, “Frugals has and will continue to fully cooperate with and support this ongoing investigation. We have followed all PCHD’s recommendations, including immediately halting all milkshake sales at our Tacoma location and sending the milkshake equipment to an independent facility for thorough cleaning, sanitization and re-testing.

“Although PCHD said they are confident that this contamination is isolated to the Tacoma location milkshake machine, out of an abundance of caution for our customers, we have also directed all milkshake machines in our other locations to be shut down and samples from these machines to be sent out for similar testing. Although also not required by PCHD, Frugals will also undergo enhanced cleaning, safety and sanitization procedures across all product categories and at all store locations.”



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