When three-year old Wilsonville native Jake Hurley visited Washington, D.C. in February, he energetically waved and beamed at the cameras and members of Congress who gathered to listen to his father, Peter, describe Jake's harrowing bought with salmonella just one month earlier.
In January, Jake began battling diarrhea and an upset stomach. His doctors suggested that he eat his favorite foodAustin brand peanut butter cookieswhich we now know carried a salmonella strain linked to the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) in Georgia. Each cracker Jake ate to feel better prolonged his sickness.
Luckily, Jake recovered and was well enough to travel to the nation's capital in February, where Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and the other members of the House investigative panel who listened to Jake's story vowed to quickly pass legislation to protect families like the Hurleys in the future from negligent food producers. In that same hearing, Walden challenged the executives at PCA to consume their own products, which they distributed despite knowing they could contain salmonella.
Now, just months later, legislation to safeguard the nation's food supply took a major step, passing the House Committee on Energy and Commerce unanimously, clearing a major hurdle before a vote on the House floor.
"This really should be called Jake's Law.' If PCA had in place a fully functioning food safety plan, as this bill would mandate, there is a good chance that the salmonella outbreak could have been avoided and Jake and hundreds of others never would have been poisoned," Walden said. "The bill also would require FDA to inspect high-risk facilities as often as every six months. Currently, there is no mandate for those inspections to take place, and there is no legal requirement for producers to draw up food safety plans to safeguard their facilities from an outbreak."
Fifteen confirmed cases of salmonella poisoning in Oregon have been linked to PCA by the state epidemiologist's office. For every confirmed case, about 20 go unreported.
"This gives FDA the authority to quickly recall foods and establish a system to trace foods back through the entire food chain to its source so we can tackle and isolate problems more quickly and make the nation's food supply safer," Walden said. "Once the House passes this bill, it's imperative that the Senate take action as soon as possible so these important safeguards can be put in place quickly."
Representative Greg Walden represents Oregon's Second Congressional District, which is comprised of 20 counties in eastern, southern, and central Oregon. He is a member of the Committee on Energy and Commerce and the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.