June 28, 2016

Intermittent clouds

Making food safe in Mom’s memory

Maria Kacik | The Gazette

MEDINA — Five months ago, brothers Randy and Jeff Napier never thought twice about food safety while sitting down to a meal.

All that changed in January when their 80-year-old mother, Nellie Napier, died after being infected with a strain of salmonella linked to contaminated peanut butter.

The Napiers have spent the months since trying to find ways their mother might have been saved. This week, they are in Washington, D.C. — along with family members of other salmonella victims — to talk with lawmakers about bills covering potentially lethal food-borne illnesses.

Jeff, left, and Randy Napier review their itinerary for their trip to Washington, D.C., where they will be talking to legislators about food safety initiatives this week.. (Maria Kacik| Gazette)

“We just need to have the feeling that when we go sit down at a dinner table we have good food. That’s the way it was originally intended to be,” said Jeff, 53, of Rittman. “But as the population grows and the faster companies have to make and inspect their food, it’s just not inspected the way it should be.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that earlier this year 691 people in 46 states contracted salmonella typhimurium after eating contaminated peanut products. The peanuts reportedly were manufactured by Peanut Corp. of America’s Blakely, Ga., facility.

On Jan. 28, Peanut Corp. of America recalled all its products — which were used in peanut butter, baked goods, candy, crackers and other products — produced at that plant since the beginning of the year. The company filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on Feb. 13, states a letter from the company posted on the Food and Drug Administration’s Web site.

Nellie, who enjoyed watching Cleveland Indians games and doing crossword puzzles, became sick in early January. It seemed like a bad case of an upset stomach. But on Jan. 9, she was at Medina General Hospital, dehydrated with failing kidneys.

A day after arriving at the hospital, tests showed Nellie had salmonella. A week and a half later, it was identified as the strain linked to contaminated peanut butter.

On Jan. 26, Nellie died — two days before Peanut Corp. of America officially recalled any of its products.

“I couldn’t help but wonder how it could happen. It was a shock,” said Randy, who said he didn’t know what tainted peanut butter product his mother had eaten.

The brothers said Nellie was the last reported death from the salmonella outbreak.

“This should have never happened,” said Randy, 51, of Medina. “Had the Food and Drug Administration had the authority they need, it would have never happened.”

Randy and Jeff will be talking with representatives in Washington about proposed legislation they think would give the FDA that authority.

Two measures — the Dingell and DeLauro bills — are in the House’s Energy and Commerce Committee. Both of them would give the FDA the authority to recall contaminated products.

Erik Olson, director of food and consumer product safety for Pew Charitable Trust in Washington, said the FDA currently can’t make such calls. All recalls are done voluntarily by the company.

“The FDA needs the power when they do inspections to be able to do mandatory recalls right at that time, instead of waiting, postponing it and then this food gets shipped out anyway and it’s poisoning people,” Jeff said.

Olson said the bill introduced by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., would call for the FDA to do mandatory inspections of food producers at least once a year. Currently, he said, they are only inspected about once every 10 years.

“You can imagine how some of these outbreaks are happening,” Olson said.

Jeff and Randy are hoping their trip to Washington will spread awareness of food safety. The two said those concerned about the issue should write their state and federal representatives about potential food safety legislation.

“It only takes 10 minutes to make a phone call,” Randy said. “This is something that affects everybody. … The intent of this is to have safe food.”

“Which is something we should have had all along,” Jeff added.

Contact Maria Kacik at (330) 721-4049 or mkacik@ohio.net.