Identified as the cause of an E. coli outbreak — and recalled in March — I.M. Healthy “SoyNut Butter” was still on the shelf yesterday at a Luckys Market in California, according to the mother of an 8-year-old outbreak victim.
“We have friends all over the Bay Area who have been watching the situation since Trevor got sick in January,” Erin Simmons said Wednesday. “I couldn’t believe it last night (Tuesday) when a friend sent me the photo of it on the shelf at the Luckys in Redwood City.
“I just can’t imagine another family having to go through what we did because this was still on sale and could make people sick.”
Officials with Luckys did not immediately respond Wednesday to a request for comment.
Earlier this month a similar situation was discovered when a food safety researcher from the University of California-Davis, Linda Harris, noticed the recalled peanut butter substitute was still available for purchase on Amazon. Harris bought the recalled product and it was delivered in less than 24 hours.
FDA and recall enforcement
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is investigating the Luckys incident — as it did the Amazon situation — an agency spokeswoman said Wednesday, after Simmons filed a consumer complaint.
“Thanks for bringing this to our attention,” the spokeswoman said in an email response to questions from Food Safety News.
“The FDA is investigating and can confirm product has been removed. We continue to follow up with online retailers and businesses as we become aware of recalled products being offered for sale. It is the responsibility of a recalling firm to ensure that a recall is effective.”
It is a violation of federal law to sell recalled products, whether in retail or wholesale settings, thrift stores or yard sales, or any other venue. The recalled soy butter has been linked to 32 illnesses across a dozen states, with additional victims possible because the recall has not been completely effective.
Simmons said her friend returned to the Luckys Market at 200 Woodside Road in Redwood City, CA, on Wednesday to find that the I.M. Healthy brand soy butter was no longer on the shelf. Which, Simmons said, surprised them both.
“He told me he went to the store four different times, talked to four different employees, and they didn’t do anything. They just left it on the shelf for people to buy,” Simmons said.
Betrayed by ‘them’
Simmons said she feels betrayed as a consumer and a taxpayer; betrayed by the food industry and betrayed by the government. She said she’s learned more than she ever wanted to know about foodborne pathogens, food laws and gaping holes in the safety net that is supposed to protect the public.
“As consumers, most moms don’t think that the food in the grocery store will make their kids sick,” Simmons said. “We trust that there are rules and that the public good is protected. The most concerning thing about this still being for sale six months after the recall is how can we ever trust what we buy?”
Before her son’s life-threatening bout with E. coli, Simmons didn’t think much about the FDA or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Now, with her post-E. coli perspective, the California mom wants to know not only how poison food gets on the market, but why the government won’t release specific distribution details about food recalled because of pathogens.
Agency policy prohibits the FDA from releasing information about what wholesalers or retailers received foods when a recall is initiated. The policy is based on a clause in federal law that protects trade secrets, referred to as “confidential corporate information” (CCI).
Simmons said that’s just not good enough.
“How can people go to the grocery store and buy food for their families with any trust,” she asked.
Things will never be the same
Simmons youngest son, Trevor, is 9 now. He’s back in school full time this fall after basically missing the entire spring semester because of his E. coli infection and complications.
His doctor visits are down to once every three months instead of once a week. He spent 25 days in the hospital, went into kidney failure, endured dialysis and could have permanent damage — it’s too early to tell.
One thing Trevor’s parents do know now, and have known for months, is that their little boy is changed forever. He wrestles with post traumatic shock syndrome because one of his favorite foods almost killed him. He must overcome fear every time he eats now, his mother said.
“This has bruised our whole family,” Simmons said. “We’ve practically become OCD because we don’t know what’s safe. I don’t want my kids to be OCD about food. They shouldn’t have to worry about the food we buy in the store.”
Editor’s note: Erin Simmons and her family are represented by Seattle attorney Bill Marler of Marler Clark LLP. Bill Marler is publisher of Food Safety News.
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