Salmonella Outbreak: Is Your Food Safe?

The tainted peanut butter crisis has now taken a human toll, with at least eight deaths being linked to the salmonella outbreak. And now it turns out the deaths could have been preventable.

The FDA revealed on Wednesdaythat at least 12 times over the past two years, the Georgia-based Peanut Corporation of America had released products for consumption after they tested positive for salmonella – but then tested negative in a second test.

Consumer advocates are outraged. The FDA also alleges the company took no steps to improve its facilities after salmonella was found in its plant, which is a clear violation of the law.

Food health experts say this salmonella outbreak should have been caught long ago. “Currently the federal and state programs that exist for food-borne disease detection and for early and rapid investigation are just broken and we need to get them fixed,” says Dr. Michael Osterhold of the University of Minnesota.

That sentiment was echoed by William Hubbard, a food safety expert who joined Wednesday’s show. The Peanut Corp. of America facility should never have been in use, he said. It shows how underfunded and undermanned the FDA is in protecting our food supply. The FDA is actually shrinking – in recent years it lost 20% of its food scientists and 600 inspectors – as the problems are getting worse. It badly needs new authority and resources from the government to effectively do its job, Hubbard said.

And why shouldn’t the FDA get what it needs? After all, as John Ulzheimer reminded us, this country is shoveling billions into our banking system. How about a couple of those billion to make sure our food doesn’t kill us?

Jeff Sonn, Wall Street fraud attorney, thinks accountability is the key here. Hold the company leadership, factory management – anyone who had direct involvement in shipping out knowingly-tainted peanut butter – criminally accountable. If the penalties for this kind of mass breach of trust are more severe, chances are we’d start to see less of it.

Caroline Smith Dewaal of the Center for Science in the Public Interestadvises all Americans to avoid peanut products for the time being unless they are absolutely certain they are not part of the recall. Like Hubbard, Dewaal believes the FDA must be bulked up so it can stop the next outbreak before it affects the public. Right now, the FDA is like the Fire Department, she said. It responds to problems but it doesn’t act as a prevention agent. That needs to change so that it can tackle problems before they spread.

The United States should not have to worry about the safety of its food supply. Perhaps if we all get mad and demand accountability from our corporations as well as resources for the government agency to combat a crisis like this, we will see some real change, Hubbard said.