Ohio Reports Latest Salmonella Death, Toll Now at 9Feb 12, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP peanut butter salmonella outbreak has claimed yet another fatality. The Associated Press (AP) is reporting a ninth death in the nationwide salmonella outbreak, which has sickened over 600 people in 44 states and Canada.
The most recent death, said Ohio health officials, involves an elderly woman who died earlier this year and was found to be infected with the same salmonella strain involved in the outbreak, said the AP. It remains unknown if the woman’s illness and death is directly related to the tainted peanut butter.
The ninth death was announced on MSNBC news at the same time that the investigative hearing of the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) was under way, said the Examiner. PCA officials invoked protection under the Fifth Amendment and refused to testify, said the Examiner. Meanwhile, the product recall toll has exceeded 1900.
PCA owner and president, Stewart Parnell, appeared before the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations following claims he gave approval to staff to ship peanut products that had initially tested positive for the dangerous and sometimes deadly salmonella pathogen, reported the Star Tribune. Parnell pleaded the Fifth despite facing the devastated surviving family members of those who died as a result of a widespread scandal that is linked to one PCA plant in what experts are saying is the largest contamination outbreak in history said the Star Tribune.
Parnell continued to invoke his rights as the House panel revealed internal PCA emails that quoted Parnell as discussing lost profits amid the investigation, illnesses, and deaths. Of particular concern, and regarding the 12 occasions in which products which tested positive for salmonella and were later retested as not being contaminated, Parnell wrote in an email about the products, "okay, let's turn them loose then." In October, Parnell complained in an email that delays occurring because of the positive tests were "costing us huge $$$$$$." Parnell even wrote to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), following confirmation that the outbreak was linked to PCA, saying that PCA workers "desperately at least need to turn the raw peanuts on our floor into money."
Representative Henry Waxman (Democrat-California), who presented PCA with the emails written by Parnell also pointed to an email in which Parnell, responding to news that salmonella-tainted peanuts were shipped from PCA said, “I go through this about once a week. I will hold my breath again.” Inspections at PCA’s Georgia plant revealed filth that included cockroaches, mold, and leaks. “What they (the emails) show is this company cared more about its financial bottom line than about the safety of its customers,” Waxman said during the hearing.
And, while Parnell continues to maintain his silence amid overwhelming evidence and in the presence of outraged survivors and lawmakers, the numbers of those affected and the numbers of products recalled continues to rise. The FDA announced it expects recalls to continue and is warning consumers to avoid peanut butter and peanut paste unless they are certain the ingredients did not come from the PCA.
The Justice Department, the FBI, and the FDA are all involved in the criminal probe of PCA.