Early this month, the Georgia House approved a bill to toughen food safety legislation passed last year. The introduction of the bill was prompted by findings from the investigation of a 2008-2009 nationwide Salmonella outbreak linked to a southern Georgia peanut processing plant.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 714 documented illnesses in 46 states were the result of infection with the outbreak strain of Salmonella; peanuts and peanut products produced at the Blakeley, Georgia, processing facility owned and operated by Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) may have contributed to nine deaths.
Over 3,000 products were recalled, resulting in one of the largest single food recalls in U.S. history.
Peter Hurley, a Portland, Oregon resident whose three-year-old son Jacob became ill with Salmonella after eating peanut butter crackers, is now a food safety advocate. Hurley’s son was sick for eleven days and eventually got better.
“It is outrageous that a company and its employees could knowingly allow tainted product to go out the door and into the nation’s food supply, as it appears PCA did. We need to strengthen the FDA and its ability to oversee our food supply. Without doing so, the outbreaks of contaminated food are sure to continue, causing millions more Americans to suffer the devastating and sometimes fatal consequences,” Hurley wrote in an email to Food Safety News.
While discussing the new Georgia bill, Hurley stated, “I think it would be in the best interest of every state to pass a bill like this; not only for the consumers, but also to let food producers know the government is serious about food safety. I wish all of the states would pass a law like Georgia’s.”
“My son’s firsthand account is a painful reminder that despite continued outbreaks–from peanut butter, hazelnuts, fresh fruits and vegetables, to cookie dough, and many other foods–Congress has yet to pass food safety legislation.”
The Georgia House action would make it a felony to knowingly distribute contaminated products, with penalties resulting in up to 20 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.
A law passed last year requires food plants to warn state inspectors of possible contaminated foods within 24 hours of tests. Under the new law, food processors face misdemeanor charges for failure to notify state inspectors within the specified time limit.