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 / Updated  / Source: Associated Press

DES MOINES, Iowa — The federal government issued a recall of chicken salad made by an Iowa processing company and distributed by Fareway Stores which has now sickened more than 100 people in five states and prompted lawsuits in Illinois, Iowa and South Dakota.

The Iowa Department of Public Health said it linked 115 cases of salmonella-related illnesses to the chicken salad sold by the Boone, Iowa-based grocery store chain. Fareway has more than 100 stores in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska and South Dakota.

Public health officials report a sick couple in South Dakota and one case each in Nebraska, Minnesota and Illinois are linked to chicken salad.

Salmonella Infantis bacteria.BSIP / UIG via Getty Images file

Jim Fox, 65, a convenience store assistant manager in Madrid, Iowa, was hospitalized twice after he fell ill on Feb. 4. The salmonella weakened him to the point that his heart began beating irregularly and his kidneys went into distress. He was hospitalized for five days.

"I swear to God, I've never been so sick in my life," Fox said.

He'd eaten Fareway chicken salad for years without trouble, he said. Fox has filled out paperwork to join others in a lawsuit to recover his medical costs and lost work.

The recalled chicken salad was bought between Jan. 4 and Feb. 9 and sold in plastic deli containers with a Fareway store deli label. The Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals said no chicken salad has been sold since Feb. 9.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service issued the recall Wednesday for 20,630 pounds of the chicken salad made at Triple T Specialty Meats Inc. The Ackley, Iowa, company grew from a family-owned meat locker to a federally inspected meat processor that provides a variety of processed foods for private label customers like Fareway, catering and mail order retail.

Any chicken salad from the recalled dates in any refrigerators or freezers should be thrown away.

Salmonella can cause diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever. Some people develop severe symptoms that require hospitalization.

Two lawsuits were filed in U.S. District Court in Des Moines by the same attorneys, including William Marler, a Seattle food safety expert. He represents Jeff Anderson, of Moline, Illinois, and Derek and Sarah Porter of Harrisburg, South Dakota. Anderson and Sarah Porter had to seek emergency medical attention.

Marler said the number of cases could reach several hundred before the outbreak is over.

"Unfortunately for [Fareway] and Triple T, this probably will be one of larger salmonella outbreaks in 2018," he said.

Both federal lawsuits allege Fareway distributed and sold adulterated chicken salad that was unsafe to eat when it was made available for sale to the public. Marler said he was amending the lawsuits to include Triple T.

Two lawsuits filed in state court in Des Moines by a West Des Moines woman and an Ankeny man carry similar allegations.

Greg Heikens, who owns Triple T with his wife, Jolene, said the plant is operating but not producing chicken salad. He said the source of the salmonella has not been pinpointed.

"I can tell you that the USDA was in here and the FDA was in here at the same time and the reports came back and it looks good for us," Heikens said. "Our plans are intact and they're working. We have all our internal temperatures where they need to be. It's a mystery at this point."

Marler said it can be difficult sometimes to pinpoint the exact cause in products with several ingredients like chicken salad. In a 2005 case, a blend of diced celery and onions used in chicken salad sold at Costco stores was believed to have been the source of E. coli contamination.

Fareway posted on its website "that this incident is not the result of anything done by Fareway. We also have no reason to believe this involves any other products."

Fareway was offering a refund to consumers who bought the chicken salad.