outbreak: Sons fight for safer food
Source of Article:
Don Davis Bemidji Pioneer
Published Tuesday, February 17, 2009
ST. PAUL – Jeff Almer wants his mother’s death to mean something.
Shirley Almer of Perham died Dec. 21 from
salmonella poisoning blamed on contaminated peanut butter. It was the first
of at least nine U.S.
deaths, including three in Minnesota,
attributed to the deadly organism from a Georgia peanut butter factory.
“I want to make a difference,” Almer said after
appearing with scientists and the son of another victim in a Monday University
roundtable discussion. “It is in honor of my mom that I am doing this.”
Almer and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said they
are optimistic Congress will change federal law, despite a similar Peter Pan
peanut butter problem two years ago.
“I think people are fed up, especially with the level of ethics displayed
by this company and how the government then failed also,” Almer
said. “So I think that may help to spur some changes.”
Almer, who lives in the Twin Cities suburb of
Savage, is doing what he can to spur those changes. He appeared in front of a
congressional panel in Washington
last week. Also in Washington
was Lou Tousignant, whose father, Clifford, died
Jan. 12 from the same peanut butter contamination that killed Almer’s mother.
Klobuchar said families like those two will
force a change.
“They have said, ‘This isn’t right and we have got to do something,’” she
told the roundtable she convened at the university’s St. Paul campus.
Food-safety experts said Minnesota
leads the country in tracking down food-borne illnesses such as the
salmonella outbreak. Klobuchar and the experts on
her panel said the rest of the country needs to follow Minnesota’s lead.
Minnesota health and agriculture
authorities found a link between Minnesota
deaths and illnesses that initially led to a Fargo,
N.D., food distributor that sold peanut
butter made in a Georgia
plant. The plant had been notified several times that it had violated health
standards, but Klobuchar said the owner ignored the
“Nobody had to report this to the federal government,” Klobuchar
said, calling the incident “shocking.”
“This is clearly an enormous loophole that has to be closed,” she added.
The senator said she expects some immediate action, with more legislation
in the years ahead to make the country’s food supply safer.
Federal authorities say 76 million cases of food-borne illnesses are
reported a year, with 5,000 deaths across the country.
Almer, whose mother twice beat cancer, ate the
contaminated peanut butter while in a nursing home.
“She was in a rehab facility to get stronger,” he said during emotional
Almer said Americans do not realize that as many
people die every eight months of food-borne disease as those killed by
terrorists in the 2001 World
Tousignant, of St. Louis Park, Minn.,
said one congressman basically told him that “this is just one guy.” But, Tousignant added, “this is happening every single year.”
Almost annually, some form of food-borne illness epidemic hits the
country, such as recent lettuce and jalapeno pepper outbreaks.
“No one has ever gone to jail for this,” said Tousignant,
whose father lived in Brainerd.
He called for criminal penalties when there is an outbreak like the one
late last year and early this year.