Oregon family tells Congress
about boy's salmonella poisoning
Source of Article: http://www.oregonlive.com/politics/index.ssf/2009/02/ap_photoj_scott_applewhiterep.html
, 2009, 9:21 PM
healthy, Jacob Hurley, 3, waves at lawmakers during a
hearing Wednesday on Capitol Hill into the salmonella-tainted peanut product
that made him seriously ill. The Oregon
boy is one of about 600 people nationwide sickened in the food-contamination
WASHINGTON -- In testimony that was both riveting and unnerving,
a father from Oregon
told a House subcommittee Wednesday how salmonella-laced peanut products
"poisoned" his 3-year-old son.
Peter Hurley, a 40-year-old officer with the
Portland Police Bureau, told the House Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and
Investigations that his son, Jacob, became seriously ill last month, a victim
of one of the worst cases of food contamination in a generation.
Also appearing before the
subcommittee was Stewart Parnell, owner of the Peanut Corp. of America,
blamed for the salmonella outbreak. E-mails released by the committee showed
that the company's senior managers did not wait for lab results before
shipping a load of peanut product that tested positive for salmonella.
Each time he was asked a question, Parnell
invoked his constitutional right not to incriminate himself. He even used the
privilege when asked if he had heard the stories from Hurley and two families
whose mother and father died from salmonella poisoning.
Parnell's silence after the wrenching
testimony focused lawmakers' anger and sparked their promises to reform a
food safety system they said is disjointed, riddled with loopholes and
lacking tough penalties. The behavior of Peanut Corp., lawmakers said,
illustrates the ease with which violators can avoid detection and heavy
penalties, including weaknesses that allow producers to "lab shop"
» Salem company joins recall list
"Today's hearing will examine how this
contamination was allowed to grow unchecked and the collective failure of
multiple layers -- the peanut butter manufacturer, the Food and Drug
Administration, state regulators and private industry," said the
subcommittee chairman, Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich.
The human costs of those failures became
immediately clear as Hurley testified.
Jacob began vomiting and having diarrhea,
Hurley told the committee. "He was sallow, lethargic. ... In a few days
he began to have blood in his diarrhea."
The pediatrician diagnosed salmonella
poisoning and told the Hurleys to feed Jacob
"his favorite comfort food" if he became hungry. So Hurley and his
wife gave Jacob his favorite snack, Austin Toasty Crackers with Peanut
The crackers contained peanut products from
Peanut Corp., which federal officials have linked to a salmonella outbreak
that has sickened about 600 people and triggered a recall of 1,800 products
ranging from cookies to ice cream to dog food.
Officials believe the salmonella-laden
products from the plant are now responsible for nine deaths after Ohio health officials
announced Wednesday that an elderly woman who died earlier this year had been
infected with the strain involved.
And records released by the subcommittee
showed that the plant in Georgia
had 12 positive tests for salmonella in 2007 and 2008.
But at the time the Hurleys
served the crackers to their suffering son, those details weren't known.
They gave him the crackers -- "the very
food that we later found was the cause of his poisoning," Hurley said.
A week later, the family learned that the
crackers contained salmonella. William Keene, a state epidemiologist, came to
their house and collected food, including six packages of Austin crackers. Three tested positive.
Jacob's story ends happily. He recovered and
attended the hearing with his parents and two sisters.
The other witnesses were not so fortunate.
Jeffery Almer and
Lou Tousignant, both of Minnesota, told the
committee how their mother and father, respectively, died after eating
contaminated peanut products from the plant in Georgia.
Almer said his mother survived cancer and was planning for
the future. "Cancer couldn't claim her," he said, "but peanut
While the hearing exposed flaws in the
government's response, most of the anger was directed at Peanut Corp.
When a lab official informed a Peanut Corp.
plant manager of a positive salmonella test, he said, "Uh-oh,"
adding that the contaminated food was already on a truck to Utah.
In mid-January, after the national outbreak
was tied to his company, Parnell, the owner, told FDA officials that his
workers "desperately at least need to turn the raw peanuts on our floor
into money." In another exchange, he told his plant manager to
"turn them loose" after products deemed contaminated were cleared
in a second test.
Parnell's response to a final lab test last year
showing salmonella was about how much the problem would cost and the impact
that lab testing was having on moving his products.
In an Oct. 6 e-mail to Sammy Lightsey, his plant manager, Parnell said time for the
testing "is costing us huge $$$$$$ and causing obviously a huge lapse in
time from the time we pick up peanuts until the time we can invoice."
Almer expressed a sentiment that lawmakers seemed to share.
"Their behavior is criminal, in my
opinion. I want to see jail time," said Almer,
whose 72-year-old mother died Dec. 21.
"I want to see them served nothing but
the putrid sludge they've been dealing out," he said, adding that the
company "now has the blood of eight victims on their hands, along with
the shattered health of a known 600 others."
Oregon Rep. Greg Walden, the subcommittee's
ranking Republican, brought a bucket of recalled products to the hearing. It
was wrapped in police tape.
Parnell sat stiffly, his hands folded in his
lap at the witness table, as Walden held up the jar and asked Parnell if he
would be willing to eat the food.
"Mr. Chairman and members of the
committee," Parnell said, "on advice of my counsel, I respectively
decline to answer your questions based on the protections afforded me under
the U.S. Constitution."
After repeating the statement several times,
he was dismissed from the hearing.