Anger is an Understandable Reaction When Something Benign As Peanut Butter Almost Kills Your Child
Christopher Meunier is still a sick child even though it has been seven weeks since he first became deathly ill.
His mom, Gabrielle, says that it was the day before Thanksgiving when her 7-year-old began showing all the debilitating and degrading intestinal symptoms that accompany severe food poisoning.
Eventually, Christopher was identified as the first case of Salmonella Typhirium documented in Vermont and one of the earliest of the almost 500 people, from infant to age 98, sickened in the U.S. and Canada from eating salmonella-contaminated peanut butter.
The child was hospitalized for six long days.
Now, some of Gabrielle's pain has morphed into anger at the lethargy of the government's efforts to identify the contaminated food.
"The wheels of the investigation are turning way too slowly and inefficiently," she told me in an email this morning.
She says it was just last week that she learned that peanut butter-containing crackers, cookies, candy and snacks could also carry the disease. But, she charges, the government knew it and didn't effectively pass the word to consumers.
Initially the Food and Drug Administration had maintained that the potentially lethal peanut butter made by Georgia-based Peanut Corporation of American was only a danger to institutions that purchased the company's five-pound jugs.
Gabrielle and others only learned that the company also supplied peanut butter and peanut cream to companies that produced scores of products filling store shelves and bakeries when some of the manufacturers announced they were voluntarily recalling their products.
To date, the FDA has ordered no recalls, even after national food safety experts, including Seattle lawyer and internet star Bill Marler, told the FDA that immediate action was needed.
Back in Vermont, Gabrielle says a box of Keebler "Cheese & Peanut Butter Sandwich Crackers" is sitting on her kitchen counter – the same "crackers that my son had eaten before he got sick."
"My son could have eaten these crackers again and potentially died. I have another son already weakened with a missing kidney and spleen. He could have died by eating these crackers," said the frustrated mother.
She questions how the government can justify not screaming the warnings of the specific food products that could be dangerous in every newspaper, radio and television station.
She says she contacted the CDC, the FDA and Keebler about her partially eaten box of crackers.
"So here I sit with the crackers in my hot little hands and no one has stepped forward to test them,'' Gabrielle says. "What a broken system."
The Centers for Disease Control says that six people have died after eating the tainted peanut butter in one product or another. The federal health detectives say that they are investigating two deaths from Minnesota, two from Virginia, one from Idaho and one from North Carolina. And, they say, they are examining others that may or may not be related.
Obviously, there is more that the government could have and perhaps should have done. But tracking the culprits in nationwide food poisoning cases is rarely easy.
For example, The number of people sickened is expected to increase, if for no other reason then there is an inherent two to three week delay between the date that the salmonella illness starts, and the date that the case is reported to public health authorities.
What this means is that someone who consumed the tainted peanut butter today and becomes ill or dies, may not be identified as a victim for three more weeks.