Marler Clark has added the Kellogg Company to its lawsuit against the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) on behalf of a Vermont child infected with Salmonella Typhimurium. The 7-year-old ate peanut butter cracker sandwiches made by Kellogg’s which contained tainted peanut product from the PCA’s now infamous plant in Blakely, GA.
“Kellogg’s made the Austin-brand product that Christopher Meunier ate,” said the Meunier’s attorney, Bill Marler. “Kellogg’s states that they received reports grading the Blakely plant as ‘superior,’ which is odd, given that other reports show the facility as having rampant problems. The way to ensure that all paperwork related to the plant is brought into the open is to include Kellogg’s in the legal process.”
Marler has been outspoken in calling for change in the U.S. food safety system. In a recent post on his blog, he outlined steps for creating a better system:
1. A Citizen Grass Roots campaign: Improve consumer understanding of the risks of food-borne illness by creating a campaign similar to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which would use consumer power to promote a no-tolerance policy toward growers and companies that produce tainted food.
2. A Professional Grass Roots Campaign: Proper food safety monitoring begins in the local health professional community. First responders - ER physicians and local doctors - need to be encouraged to routinely test for pathogens and report findings directly to local and state health departments and the CDC at the first sign of questionable symptoms, which will speed up the identification of an outbreak.
3. The Team of Rivals: Local, state and federal health agencies need to be encouraged to work together. Resources need to be provided and coordination encouraged so illnesses can be promptly stopped and the offending producer - not an entire industry - is brought to heel.
4. Utilize Social and Digital Media - Exploit cutting edge Technology: President Obama utilized social and digital media in ways that were unprecedented for an electoral campaign, and the health and food safety community can learn a huge lesson from him. We need to get the message out rapidly when there is an outbreak, and equally importantly, we need to use all available technology to track and monitor products before outbreaks occur.
5. Training and Education: Our food safety workers need to be trained and licensed to do what they are doing. There needs to be comprehensive licensing requirements for large farm, manufacturing, wholesale and retail food outlets, so that no one gets a license until they and their employees are trained in food safety hazards and how to avoid them at every point of the processing timeline.
6. The Economic Stimulus element: Provide tax breaks for companies that push food safety interventions and employee training.
7. The Education element of the stimulus package: University research to develop better technologies to make food safe and for testing foods for contamination.
8. President Obama has addressed terrorism issues since the Inauguration: It’s time to start thinking about this issue from a food safety standpoint; imports pose an increasing risk, especially if terrorists were to get into the act. Points of entry and export are logical places to step up monitoring. We need more inspectors - domestically and abroad - and we need to require that they receive training in how to identify and control hazards.
9. Lastly, we can’t overlook the legal issues in food safety: As a lawyer, President Obama is very aware of the incentives that legal consequences provide for changing behavior. Right now there are too few legal consequences for sickening or killing customers by selling contaminated food. We should impose stiff fines, and even prison sentences for violators, as well as even stiffer penalties for repeat violators.
BACKGROUND: The outbreak of Salmonella Typhimurium began in August 2008, and the CDC reports that to date 550 people have been sickened and the infection contributed to eight deaths. Companies that purchased peanut butter and paste from PCA have recalled thousands of products, with more appearing every day.
The original lawsuit was filed January 20, 2009 in the US District Court, Middle District of Georgia by Marler Clark and by Patrick Flynn of Flynn, Peeler & Phillips of Albany, GA. After FDA disclosure of questionable hygiene and practices at the Blakely PCA plant, the Meunier lawsuit was amended to allege punitive claims.