January 15, 2009; News 12 at 6 o'clock
NORTH AUGUSTA, SC - A North Augusta couple says they are tired of red tape when all they are trying to do is the right thing. Imagine biting into a piece of candy and finding a nail inside. That's what Pamela Saunders says happened to her.
She wanted to warn everybody, maybe even help with a recall, but wasn't getting anywhere with the store where she bought the candy, so she called 12 On Your Side. Right away, we started making calls, and right away, we saw how difficult this process can be. Turns out, the agency responsible for information about the safety of your food and medicine doesn't like to give out any information at all about its investigations.
Pamela Saunders says she felt something that didn't belong when she bit into a York Peppermint Patty, "and I spit it back out, and looked at it, and it was a nail." Suddenly, her taste for something sweet went sour, and her husband knew they had to tell somebody. Jeffery Saunders thought, "Maybe some machinery malfunctioned that they have, and they don't know this is going on." The Saunders tried to tell the manager of the store where they bought the peppermint patty, but they felt like they were getting blown off. That's when they called News 12. Jeffery was worried "they need to do something; a recall on the candy or something, before somebody gets seriously hurt."
So, we went to work, contacting the Food and Drug Administration. It's essentially the government's watchdog, making sure your food and medicine is safe. It's the same agency that warned botulism was in some cans of Castleberry's chili and the same group that warned you about tainted tomatoes, bad dog food, and contaminated spinach.
From spinach to a peppermint patty, the the very first thing you should do if you think you've found something wrong . pick up the phone. Agents say it's important you file a claim with the FDA. Keep a pen and paper handy and write down everyhing: the date the time, the name of the person on the other end, and any other info they give you. In cases like this, even the smallest details can make a big difference.
The Saunders stayed on top of everything with the FDA, but they could never get any information about their claim. News 12 was on the case too, but all we got was this: "It is FDA's policy not to comment on open investigations."
Then, persistence paid off.
Finally, 12 days after the Saunders first filed their claim, an FDA investigator came to their North Augusta home. Our cameras were rolling as the Saunders gave an affidavit, and the agent took pictures. Finally, the Saunders felt like they were getting somewhere, but it worried them it took this long, and it took this much work just to get the FDA to take some action.
"One minute I thought, nothing was gonna happen, until you, Miss Meredith, started the ball-game," said Pamela.
Now that the ballgame has started, there are many more innings to come. All this information goes to Atlanta and then to another FDA office in the northeast. Next, the Food and Drug administration gets in touch with Hershey's, the company that makes the York Peppermint Patties. It's a lengthy process, and Jeffery is happy it has started. "They took the time to come down here and talk with us, and I appreciate that."
Still, Jeffery and Pamela are frustrated. They certainly don't feel protected by an agency that's supposed to protect you.
News 12 has also contacted Hershey's, and a spokesman says the company is looking into it. He says Hershey's screens all candy for safety reasons before it's shipped out, and there are measures in place to prevent things like this from happening.
As for the Saunders, they are in this because they are worried about protecting people. They are not pushing for answers because they want money. Jeffery used to work for Castleberry's, and he says it bothers him every singe day that Castleberry's chili may have killed a man. He says he couldn't live with himself if someone got hurt from some candy, and he didn't speak up to stop it.
Of course, we will stay on top of this and keep trying to get answers from the FDA. We'll let you know what happens.