January 30, 2009

Salmonella In Peanuts Indicate System Needs Fixing

Christopher Meunier, a 7 year old child, woke up in November with a high fever, bloody diarrhea and was vomiting.

"He was just in screaming pain," his mother, Gabrielle Meunier, told the New York Times. "He said, "ËœIt hurts so bad, I want to die' "” something you don't expect to hear out of a 7-year-old's mouth."

Christopher had salmonella poisoning, caused by consuming peanut butter or peanut products produced at the Peanut Corporation of America plant in Blakely, Ga.

The Food and Drug Administration has stated that the company intentionally released contaminated goods from a place that was never intended to make peanut butter safely, creating a gigantic food recall.

The company stated that they disagreed with parts of the agency's statements and that it had "taken extraordinary measures to identify and recall all products that have been identified as presenting a potential risk."

Food scares from cantaloupes, jalapeños, lettuce, spinach and tomatoes have caused major recalls. Several legislative suggestions have been presented to fix the system, and people are turning to President Obama in hopes that he will support them.

"Far too often, tainted food is not recalled until too late," Obama stated last year in his campaign. "When I am president, it will not be business as usual when it comes to food safety. I will provide additional resources to hire more federal food inspectors."

Practically all of the bills want test results and public records to be accessible to government inspectors upon request, and would allot money for through research of both domestic and foreign food factories.

Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, and Representative Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut, also suggest developing a food agency so that food would be given proactive focus. Currently, 12 different federal agencies regulate food safety.

"I think I can prevail on the president to take a fresh look at this," Durbin said. "We can no longer forgive or explain what's happening with food safety in this country."

Both the White House and the Health and Human Services Department would not comment on Thursday. Nevertheless, the peanut recall indicates how the system needs to be fixed.

Cases like Christopher's are reported to health departments, who then report them to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In mid-November, the disease centers had recorded enough kinds of a comparable strain of salmonella to be worried.

"The numbers were not necessarily significant initially "” one here, one there," said Lola Russell, a disease centers spokeswoman. "Over time, those numbers began to grow."

In mid-December, the Minnesota Department of Health had found reports of nine people with salmonella poisoning. Consequently, the department's Team Diarrhea, a group of graduate students, started contacting patients to ask about food choices.

"We had a lot of peanut-butter eaters," said Carlota Medus, a state epidemiologist. "But none of the brand names were matching up well."

This process is filled with ambiguity. State health officials inquire people as to what they ate in the days before falling ill. Memories and dreadful records impede these efforts.

Delay is also an issue. Usually two weeks pass in the time someone is first diagnosed and the time between the results of a stool sample test passed to federal officials.

In the peanut butter outbreak, the first suspect was chicken.

"The chicken was actually a red herring," Russell said. It was a distraction that resulted from people who consumed chicken at an Ohio restaurant as well as peanut butter at a cafeteria.

The FDA. then went to a Georgia plant with a group of inspectors. They demanded that they records that inspectors from the Georgia Agriculture Department, who had reviewed the factory twice without discovering severe violations, had not been allowed access to.

The records noted that on 12 separate occasions from 2007 to 2008, examinations of peanut products created at the plant were tainted by salmonella. However, all retests were clean. However, F.D.A. officials stated that the first tests should have caused plant officials to quarantine the products and clean their facility. Neither of these steps was taken.


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