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"Given the numerous food-borne illness outbreaks over the past several years, it is becoming painfully clear that the current regulatory structure is antiquated and ill-equipped to handle these extensive investigations," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who chairs a panel that oversees the FDA budget.
Seattle-area lawyer William Marler, who specializes in food safety cases, said the government shouldn't wait for the results of more tests to request recalls.
"At least 30 companies purchased peanut butter or paste from a facility with a documented link to a nationwide salmonella outbreak," said Marler. "The FDA has the authority, actually the mandate, to request recalls if the public health is threatened. Instead, the FDA has asked the companies to test their products and consider voluntary recalls. It is just not enough."
Health officials in Minnesota and Virginia have linked two deaths each to the outbreak and Idaho has reported one. Four of those five were elderly people, and all had salmonella when they died, although their exact causes of death have not been determined. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the salmonella may have contributed.
An elderly North Carolina man died in November from the same strain of salmonella that's causing the outbreak, officials in that state said Friday.
The CDC said the bacteria behind the outbreak -- typhimurium -- is common and not an unusually dangerous strain but that the elderly or those with weakened immune systems are more at risk.
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