Shoprite ordered into mediation with toddler who sued over food poisoning

Four-year-old Azaan Lukomwa claims that she contracted serious health conditions after food poisoning caused by Weet-bix he had eaten

COURT | Retail store Shoprite has a lifeline away from public scrutiny to sort a dispute brought up by a toddler over alleged contaminated foodstuff.

High Court Judge Musa Sekaana has ordered that Azaan Lukomwa, a 4-year-old who has sued Shoprite Checkers Uganda together with its supplier Pioneer Foods Groceries Pty Limited, should first exhaust available mediation channels before court can be the last resort.

Lukomwa has sued the multinational retail store of stocking and selling contaminated Weet-bix snacks that she alleges caused her health complications upon eating.

Sendo Cleaners

Crime24 court correspondent Derrick Kiyonga says unless the case is settled through a mediated agreement, Shoprite Checkers Uganda, Pioneer Foods Groceries Pty Limited and state entities like Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) and Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) will all be drawn into a legal battle with the toddler.

All the defendants have filed their written defenses.

In a case that will throw more light on how food bought from supermarkets is contaminated, Lukomwa, in his case filed at the Civil Division of the High Court, accuses Shoprite of selling him “Bokomo Weet-bix” which was infested with “live insects” accordingly not fit for human consumption.

Shoprite and Pioneer Foods Groceries are the main targets in suit since Lukomwa wants Judge Sekaana to declare that all the “Bokomo Weet-bix” sold in Shoprite is not fit for human consumption and also order the recall of all Bokomo range products supplied by Pioneer Foods Groceries until they are certified to meet the requisite standards.

The food poisoning

Lukomwa’s love affair with “Bokomo Weet-bix”, it seems, didn’t start in Uganda where the case has been filed. Having lived in South Africa, for a long time, Lukomwa who is suing through his mother Aisha Wamala — since he is a minor — says that he was accustomed to eating Pioneer Foods Groceries “Bokomo Weet –bix” and other foods apparently bought by his parents from a number of stores still in South Africa.

Upon his family’s return to Uganda on November, 18, 2017, it’s said that Wamala went to Shoprite store located on Ben Kiwanuka Street where she bought “Bokomo Weet-bix” weighing 450gm and labeled L5A. In the evening of the same day, Lukomwa was served with a portion of the said cereal which he apparently gladly consumed and subsequently went to bed.

However, at night, the suit which has been drawn and prepared by Muwema and company Advocates says Lukomwa’s parents were awakened to his cry and upon going to his room they found his bed not only soiled but also soaked with vomit and stool.

First, the parents took Lukomwa to Nsangi Health Centre and when his condition worsened, they took him to Mulago Hospital. The parents say that at both facilities, a diagnosis of food poisoning was confirmed.

“After preliminary investigations and test by the hospital, the hospital found and confirmed that the cereal eaten by the plaintiff [Lukomwa) contained Aflatoxins and was infested with live insects,” the suits in which copies of the assessment and diagnosis report are attached says in part.

Mulago Hospital, in its follow up report — which has also been attached to the suit — confirmed that the cereal from Shoprite had devastating effects on Lukomwa since to date he has what is termed as “ on and off abdominal pains, jaundice and edema of the body and may suffer liver cancer.”

UNBS wasn’t spared either since samples of the said cereal were submitted to the safety standards body whose responsibility is the formulation, promotion of the use of, and the enforcement of standards in protection of the environment, public health or safety and its findings were not any different to those of Mulago.

UNBS advised Lukomwa’s family to take the cereal to the Directorate of Government Analytical Laboratory for forensic examination and it also had conclusions that “the product had aflatoxins and was infested with live insects.”

Shoprite says ‘no other consumer complained’

In its defence, Shoprite, just like other defendants, denies Lukomwa accusations asserting that it receives Pioneer Foods Groceries supplies in sealed packages inspected by a pre-shipment inspection company authorized by UNBS.

In its defence, drafted by Tumusiime and Kabega Company Advocates, one of Africa’s biggest food retailers says that Wamala visited its premises on November, 2017, and lodged a complaint alleging that Lukomwa had developed abdominal pains after eating insect infested Weet-bix cereal.

“All the packages remaining on the shop floor shelf of the same Weet-bix Breakfast Cereal were opened in the second plaintiff’s (Wamala) presence and none of them were insect infested,” the defence partly reads.

“The first defendant has never and did not receive any other complaint from any other customer from the entire batch of Weet-bix breakfast Cereal from which the first plaintiff allegedly purchased nor from any other batch of Weet-bix breakfast Cereal.”

Pioneer Foods National Groceries insists that the said aflatoxins or infestations found in the Weet-bix were not part of the contents of the product when it left the factory in South Africa, upon being manufacture.

“The plaintiffs did not suffer any of the symptoms, injuries or loss alleged or any at all and if they did suffer any symptoms, injuries or loss, which is denied, it was not as a result of consuming any of the second defendant’s Weet-bix products, ” Pioneer Foods National Groceries says in defence drafted by AF Mpanga Advocates.

When the hearing starts, Pioneer Foods National Groceries says that it will argue that it strictly adheres to International and national best practices in its production, inspection, coding and storage of finished products and that none of its products contains the contaminants alleged by Lukomwa and his family.

“As a result of the above,” Pioneer Foods National Groceries says, “the second defendant [Pioneer Foods National Groceries], which employs the best production and most technologically advanced methods in the Ready-To-Eat –Breakfast Cereal industry, and whose facilities are subjected to continuous South African and international quality audits, denies being negligent as claimed by the plaintiffs or at all, as it has taken all reasonable steps necessary and possible to ensure that its Weet-bix products are safe for human consumption.”

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