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BOP Settles Lawsuits Related to Food Poisoning at Pennsylvania Prison

As previously reported in Prison Legal News, hundreds of federal prisoners at USP Canaan, a high-security federal prison northwest of Scranton, Pennsylvania, became sick after eating salmonella-contaminated chicken in June 2011. [See: PLN, August 2012, p.31].

Although Bureau of Prisons (BOP) officials denied reports of widespread food poisoning at the facility, saying at the time that there was “no truth in the rumors,” the number of prisoners who had to be transported by ambulance to nearby medical centers resulted in coverage by the local news media.

Apparently, chicken that had been stored at room temperature for a week was used to prepare fajitas served to the prison population. Almost two hundred prisoners fell ill and dozens received some form of medical treatment. More than 90 food poisoning-related lawsuits were filed, resulting in average settlements of about $1,750 per claim according to an August 20, 2013 news report.

The BOP has long prided itself on how little it spends on prisoner food, noting that it saves money by buying food in bulk from brokers who know they have a ready market for expired and out-of-date commodities. Financial pressure means that prison staff sometimes serve food that probably should be thrown away.

“It is well known there was food poisonings and the staff here attempted to cover it up as well as cover up the fact that they did not give the proper medical treatment to everyone that became ill,” said USP Canaan prisoner Timothy Daniels. He claimed he had suffered vomiting, abdominal pain and severe diarrhea, but received only minimal medical care. According to the Judgment Fund, which lists the federal government’s litigation payouts, Daniels accepted $2,000 to settle his food poisoning suit.

Another USP Canaan prisoner, Calvin Smith, reported that 150 prisoners assigned to the kitchen were removed from their jobs after the salmonella outbreak. He settled his lawsuit against the BOP in May 2013 for $2,000. See: Smith v. United States, U.S.D.C. (M.D. Penn.), Case No. 3:13-cv-00323-JMM-MCC.

The largest settlement, in the amount of $5,000, went to prisoner Richard Randolph, who had to be hospitalized for three days due to salmonella poisoning. His case settled in January 2013. See: Randolph v. United States, U.S.D.C. (M.D. Penn.), Case No. 1:12-cv-00784-SHR-MCC.

There were no published reports indicating whether BOP kitchen staff had been disciplined as a result of the food poisoning incident, even though such employees are responsible for supervising all phases of kitchen operations – including the purchase and preparation of food for consumption by both prisoners and staff members. There were also no reports as to whether any prison employees suffered food poisoning.


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Related legal case

Smith v. United States