Underreporting of Salmonella and E-coli Food Poisoning - Probably 25,000 Cases of Salmonella Poisoning from Peter Pan Peanut ButterJun 14, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP
In February of 2007, the FDA warned the country about Salmonella-tainted peanut butter distributed by food conglomerate, ConAgra Foods. However, the Salmonella-tainted Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butter may have gone unreported by the CDC for months. As a result, hundreds, possibly thousands of people have been sickened by a company with a history of producing tainted foods.
Besides the recent recall of Peter Pan Peanut Butter, ConAgra faced another governmental recall in August 2002 when their Greeley, Colorado beef plant produced meat contaminated with E-coli. Around 19 million pounds of tainted beef were recalled. E-coli, an intestinal bacteria, causes symptoms such as abdominal pain, severe cramping, bloody diarrhea, and vomiting. About 5 to 10 percent of infected individuals go on to develop Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome which can lead to kidney failure and death. One person was reported to have died in Ohio after eating the contaminated meat.
Although the tainted peanut butter was not officially addressed until February 2007, the CDC detected an increased incidence of Salmonella-related sicknesses as far back as November 2006. The CDC could have made an inquiry in November when the outbreak began to appear, but instead waited until February after more and more people were coming down with Salmonella. Given ConAgra's recent past, the CDC should have been stricter in flushing out the food corporation's mistakes. Apparently ignoring their past problems with contamination, the CDC gave ConAgra Foods a mere slap on the wrist, hoping the company would correct itself. Unfortunately, ConAgra did little to fix its Salmonella problem and thus more people ended up with tainted peanut butter in their pantries and on their sandwiches.
A major hurdle in trying to figure out exactly how many people have been afflicted with ConAgra's tainted products has to do with incidences of underreporting. For instance, one of the major problems with trying to quantify the differences between reporting normal diarrhea and food poisoning is that many people will mistake an upset stomach as stress or will attribute it to some other ailment such as the flu. And although it's understandable that the general public may not know the difference between the flu and Salmonella symptoms, doctors are also capable of underreporting. The best way to diagnose Salmonella is to test the germs in the stool of an afflicted person; however doctors don't routinely test everyone, thus perpetuating the cycle of underreporting.
This occurrence of underreporting is disturbing because Salmonella is one of the most vicious strains of food poisoning. Although it is usually not life-threatening, Salmonella can be potentially fatal if untreated. Symptoms can last five to seven days and can include: severe diarrhea, abdominal cramps, fever, nausea, dehydration, and vomiting. Headaches and muscle and joint pain can cause flu-like symptoms which inhibit an individual's ability to cope with everyday responsibilities such as work and family. One of the main problems associated with Salmonella is a debilitating condition called Reiter's Syndrome. The most common symptoms of Reiter’s Syndrome are arthritis, eye irritation, and urinary tract symptoms and typically affect the knees, ankles, and feet, causing pain and swelling for up to a year or more after the initial infection. Those with weakened immune systems, specifically infants and the elderly are especially at risk to lose their lives.