News 12 at 11 o'clock, March 23, 2009
NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C.---The agency that's supposed to make sure the food you eat is safe seems to be dropping the ball.
A family first came to News 12 in December, claiming to have found a nail in some candy. Since then they've been pushing the Food and Drug Administration for answers on how to deal with the problem.
But it seems the FDA is having some major problems of its own.
Back in December we showed you the image of the half-eaten piece of candy that left a bitter taste in Pamela Saunders' mouth.
"And I spit it back out, and looked at it, and it was a nail," she told News 12.
She wasn't hurt then, but she's hurt now.
"Take this serious, people," she said, "Don't just throw it away to the side. Take it serious."
Pamela and her husband Jeffery certainly are. News 12 put them in touch with the Food and Drug Administration three months ago, so they could report the nail to the agency that's supposed to keep watch over your food.
Our cameras were rolling when an FDA agent came to the Saunders' North Augusta home, after repeated phone calls from both the Saunders and News 12.
It took 12 days, but finally the Saunders felt like they were getting somewhere.
"One minute I thought nothing was going to happen, until you, Miss Meredith, started the ball game," Pamela said.
But that ball game is going into extra innings.
"I know things take time," Jeffery said, "but it don't take this amount of time, you know what I'm saying?"
It's nearing the end of March, and Jeffery and Pamela still have no answers. That is raising even more questions. Did it also take weeks--months--for the FDA to do anything when peanut butter started making people sick? What about tomatoes, Castleberry's chili? If, somehow, one nail got into a Peppermint Patty, could it happen again?
"Didn't nobody die," Jeffery said. "Ain't nobody swallowed anything or punctured a lung or cut their throat open or nothing, so we'll just push it aside. You know what? I wonder what they're going to do if somebody got hurt."
Phone calls went unreturned and emails went unanswered, so News 12 turned to the Freedom of Information Act. We filed our request--and we got a letter of complete denial. The reason: "the results would show personnel or medical files that would be an unwarranted invasion of privacy."
The Saunders never underwent any medical tests or gave the FDA medical files or any other personal information.
We are appealing--and we are not alone. The FDA does not have a good track record of giving out information. News 12 has learned that when the last fiscal year ended, the FDA had 17,458 pending Freedom of Information Act requests. The year before that, 19,328.
Even if the system is broken, the Saunders still have to give it a shot. We invited them to News 12 to help them fill out the proper forms.
It's a right to information the Saunders didn't even know they had.
"At least someone is caring. And I appreciate it, Miss Meredith," Pamela said, moved to tears. "That's enough right there to make me feel good."
Through it all, the Saunders have learned an important lesson. The candy that started all this isn't so different from the FDA itself. Both seemed fine...until we took a look inside.
Of course, we will continue to watch this, and we'll let you know what happens with our appeal and whether the FDA answers this recent written request the Saunders just sent off.
We do FOIs all the time here at News 12, but what a lot of people don't realize is that you have the right to this information too. It's not just reporters. And you can get information from all kinds of agencies. Check out the link below to learn how.