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David Sparks Ph.d Food Safety
by David Sparks Ph.d, click here for bio

Program: Line on Agriculture
Date: February 02, 2018

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Continuing his efforts to ensure Americans have safe food to eat, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Hood River) held a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on the safety of the U.S. food supply and concerns over the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) food-recall process. During the hearing, Walden highlighted a case in Oregon that helped elevate the conversation over food safety laws to the national level.

“I take this issue very personally.  In February 2009, this subcommittee held a hearing on the nationwide outbreak of salmonella-related illnesses linked to products from the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA).  One of the witnesses at that hearing was Peter Hurley, from Wilsonville, Oregon,” said Walden.  “When Peter’s then three-year-old son, Jake, became sick, doctors recommended that they give him his favorite foods to encourage him to eat.  Well, Jake’s favorite food was Austin brand peanut butter crackers -- which turned out to be the very thing that was poisoning him.  When Oregon State officials tested the crackers, three of the six packages contained peanut butter contaminated by salmonella.

“Jake became ill because Stewart Parnell, the CEO of PCA, knew that the peanut products were contaminated with salmonella when he told the plant manager to ‘Turn them loose.’  At that same hearing, I confronted Mr. Parnell with this container of products.,” Walden said, holding a container of contaminated peanut products that were willingly released by Mr. Parnell. “I asked him whether he would be willing to take the lid off and eat any of these products now, since he was so cavalier about turning it loose on little kids like Jake.  He declined to answer, citing the Fifth Amendment.”

Thankfully, Jake overcame his illness and it was great to see him, now a young teenager, and his dad during a visit to D.C. last year,”  said Walden. “More than 600 other people in 44 states were sickened. Nine people died. As a result, Mr. Parnell is currently serving a 28-year sentence for his action.”

Following the salmonella outbreak, Walden has worked towards improving food safety laws and ensuring they function properly. Today’s hearing was to examine a number of deficiencies in the FDA food recall process that were included in a December 2017 report by the Department of Health and Human Services. Specifically, Walden called today’s hearing to determine to what extent the Food Safety Modernization Act has improved FDA’s oversight of food recalls since its passage in 2011, and what more needs to be done to ensure that Americans like Jake Hurley are protected from bad actors and contaminated food products.

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