Sarasota’s Big Olaf ice cream company ordered to pay $4 million to family of woman who died

A federal judge this week ordered Big Olaf Creamery LLC of Sarasota to pay $4 million in damages to the family of an Illinois woman who died from listeria.

U.S. District Judge William F. Jung of the Middle District of Florida ordered Big Olaf to pay $3 million in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages.

Mary Katherine Billman, who was visiting her daughter in Sarasota, died Jan. 29, 2022 —11 days after eating Big Olaf ice cream in a Sarasota parlor, according to a lawsuit filed in 2022.

The Centers for Disease Control announced July 2 that preliminary results of their investigation showed the outbreak originating at Big Olaf.

Eventually, the number of people who were known to have been sickened by the outbreak totaled 28, with 27 requiring hospitalization across 11 states.

On Nov. 2, 2022, the CDC posted that the outbreak was over. The CDC said:

The recalled ice cream was sold or served at Big Olaf retailers, restaurants, and senior homes in Florida, and in one location in Fredericksburg, Ohio.

All flavors, lots, and expiration dates through June 30, 2022, of Big Olaf brand ice cream products have been recalled.

Big Olaf brand ice cream was sold to consumers in plastic pint-size containers and plastic half gallon containers. The ice cream was sold to independent retail stores in plastic 2.5-gallon scoopable tubs.

“Listeriosis is a serious infection usually caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. An estimated 1,600 people get listeriosis each year, and about 260 die. The infection is most likely to sicken pregnant women and their newborns, adults aged 65 or older, and people with weakened immune systems,” the CDC said.

Samples from sick people were collected from Jan. 24, 2021, to Aug. 19, 2022. Sick people ranged in age from less than 1 to 92 years, with a median age of 62, and 50% were female. Of the 28 sick people, 27 were hospitalized. One death was reported from Illinois, the CDC said.

Seven illnesses were among pregnant people or newborns. One illness resulted in a pregnancy loss.

“The true number of sick people in an outbreak is likely higher than the number reported, and the outbreak may not be limited to the states with known illnesses. This is because some people recover without medical care and are not tested for Listeria. In addition, recent illnesses may not yet be reported as it usually takes 3 to 4 weeks to determine if a sick person is part of an outbreak,” the CDC said.

On July 13, Big Olaf voluntarily stopped production at its Sarasota facility, while the state simultaneously issued an order for sales of the ice cream to stop, the Bradenton Herald previously reported.

The Herald was unable to contact Big Olaf Creamery LLC for comment on Thursday.