Family tells how tainted peanuts sickened child

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Three-year-old Jacob Hurley nodded eagerly when he heard the name of his favorite food -- Austin toasty crackers with peanut butter -- his enthusiasm unaffected even after an 11-day bout with salmonella.

Jacob’s father, Terence Hurley, was one of three family members testifying to Congress about the effects of an ongoing outbreak of salmonella food poisoning that has sickened 600 people, may have killed eight, and caused one of the biggest food recalls in U.S. history.

“Can you imagine the effect on a parent if you knew you’d been poisoning your 3-year-old child?” Oregon Republican Representative Greg Walden asked the hearing of the House of Representatives oversight subcommittee hearing.

Hurley did.

The police officer from Wilsonville, Oregon, and his wife learned the diarrhea and vomiting sickening their young son last month was salmonella, and they knew that products linked to Peanut Corporation of America had been recalled.

But they also thought that only institutional peanut butter was involved, and were furious to learn that Peanut Corp. had knowingly shipped products tainted with salmonella to schools, nursing homes and food processors.

More than 1,800 products have been recalled so far, with dozens more announced daily.

“As Jacob’s diarrhea continued, my wife was given the OK from our pediatrician’s office for Jacob to eat his favorite comfort food, Austin toasty crackers with peanut butter -- the very food that we later found was the cause of his poisoning,” Hurley said.

A Saturday night visit from Oregon state epidemiologist Dr. William Keene resulted in tests that definitively linked Jacob’s diarrhea to the crackers, but only after days of misery for the child.

“The issue was no longer what had we done unknowingly, but what had PCA done knowingly,” Hurley said.

Members of Congress showed internal company e-mails from Peanut Corp, that indicate the company shipped products from its now-closed Blakely, Georgia, plant to schools, nursing homes and food processors, even after getting lab tests showing salmonella contamination.

Hurley and other family members asked Congress to better fund the U.S. Food and Drug Administration so it could better inspect the food supply.

Kellogg Co, which makes the Austin snacks, said the recall would cost it up to $70 million.

Lawyers for the company declined to testify before the hearing but PCA has said it is cooperating with health and criminal investigations by the FDA and FBI.

Reporting by Maggie Fox, editing by Will Dunham and Alan Elsner