By Julie Schmit, USA TODAY
Gabrielle Meunier, a controller for a Vermont real estate
company, has deployed technology to speed and improve her work. She wants
governments to do the same to speed and improve food-borne illness
She has more than a passing
interest in the subject.
Her son, Christopher, 7,
suffered salmonella poisoning as part of the peanut-related outbreak tied
in January to products made by the Peanut Corp. of America.
Hospitalized for six days after Thanksgiving, the boy hurt so much, he
wanted to die, his mother says. His medical care was superb. Then, the
story turns infuriating, she says.
After the Vermont hospital discovered salmonella,
11 days passed before state health officials interviewed Meunier at length about what Christopher ate and where,
who testified at a congressional hearing on the outbreak last month, says
food history forms should be online so that potential victims can fill them
out immediately — when memories are fresh — rather than have to wait to be
called by a health worker.
She also says government
agencies must get better at gathering and sharing information. At one
point, Meunier was told by a health worker that
she "didn't need to know" what kind of salmonella her son had,
A low point in her quest to
find out what sickened her son came after foodmaker
Kellogg said in mid-January that its peanut butter crackers may have been
made with peanut paste from PCA. Christopher had eaten some of those
crackers at a sports camp right before he became ill, Meunier
Instead of being notified by
any federal or state agency that the crackers were suspect, Meunier heard about it from a friend who had read about
it. A computerized phone message from government agencies to warn people
who'd reported illnesses should've gone out, she says.
called the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to tell
investigators that she might have some leftover crackers they could test.
Her call went no farther than a receptionist, she says, because she didn't
know who to ask for. The CDC's Assistant Surgeon General Ali Khan says he
is "disturbed" by her inability to get through. Kellogg then
recalled the crackers.
wants the government to set up a secure, online chat room, where possible
victims could talk to each other.
"Had I had an opportunity
to talk to other mothers whose children were sick ... we could have cracked
this case back in early December," she says.