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11 Year Old Victim of Salmonella-Tainted Peanut Butter Returns Home Following Kidney Transplant

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An 11-year-old girl who needed a kidney transplant after eating Salmonella-tainted Peter Pan Peanut Butter has returned home from the hospital. Krystina Burgh, who received the kidney from her father on June 18th, had been undergoing dialysis since she was diagnosed with Salmonella poisoning stemming from Peter Pan Peanut Butter in January. Salmonella is a food-borne illness characterized by cramping, vomiting and diarrhea. Severe cases can lead to serious complications like kidney failure and a difficult-to-treat-disease called Reiter’s Syndrome. At a news conference prior to her release, Krystina said she was feeling well, but was disappointed she would miss out on summer activities while she recuperates. Doctors are hopeful that the little girl will have a full recovery, although they concede it could be at least a year before they know if the transplant is successful.

Krystina’s case is particularly tragic since quicker action from ConAgra, Peter Pan Peanut Butter’s manufacturer, and the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) would have prevented her illness. Krystina’s parents said that prior to becoming ill in January 2007, their daughter had eaten Peter Pan Peanut Butter with a product code starting with 211. That lot of peanut butter would be recalled for Salmonella contamination in February.

In April 2007, the Washington Post published documents proving that the FDA, as well as ConAgra, knew of contamination problems at the Sylvester, Georgia plant where the peanut butter was made as far back as 2004. The agency took few corrective measures, assuming that ConAgra would address the situation itself. Unfortunately, whatever steps the company took did not prevent the Salmonella outbreak. Had the FDA ordered ConAgra to take corrective action at that time, Krystina’s illness, as well as the illnesses of hundreds of people, would have been prevented.

Even after the first cases of Salmonella poisoning were noticed in Tennessee in March 2006, little was done to address the problem. While the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) slowly worked to track the source of the disease, jars of tainted peanut butter were being shipped from the Georgia factory, exposing thousands of people to Salmonella poisoning. Finally in February – nearly a year after Salmonella started sprouting up around the country -ConAgra issued a recall of Peter Pan and Great Value brand peanut butter. Of course that recall came too late for hundreds of victims like Krystina. Earlier this month, Krystina’s parents, who face mounting medical bills, filed suit against ConAgra, alleging that the company’s negligence is to blame for her illness. The family says it also hopes the lawsuit will highlight the FDA’s inability to regulate the food industry.

Late last month, the CDC reported that 628 people in 47 states were confirmed to have contracted Salmonella from the peanut butter. The toll also included 2 deaths. However, because it took nearly an entire year to trace the Salmonella contamination to the peanut butter, some believe these numbers could be much higher. There is a very good chance that victims made ill long before the February 2007 recall never linked their illness to the tainted product, and thus never reported anything to health officials. It could be some time, if ever, before the full scope of the problem becomes apparent.

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