Salmonella gets Washington's attention

Tracie Potts
NBC News

Washington  --  Companies that make peanut butter snacks recalled over 100 more products today that may be tainted with salmonella.

Washington's trying to figure out why it took so long to let the public know what was going on.

It was four months from the time the first report came in, until the FDA shut down that Georgia peanut plant and posted recalls. Congress wants to know why the delay?

In the four months between the first reported illness -- and the shutdown of that Georgia peanut plant -- 7-year-old Christopher Meunier ate snack crackers that almost killed him:

"Never once did we ever fathom that a cracker could contain poisoning. Ever," said his mother, Gabrielle Meunier.

Now - with more than 500 people sick and eight dead of salmonella - congress wants to know what took so long.

"Y' all gotta figure out some way to speed up that process," said Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss

Federal officials say the way their monitoring system works, the delay's not unusual. 

"I talk about this akin to driving while looking through your rearview mirror," said Rear Admiral Ali Khan, of the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

"You can only imagine how dangerous this is for an elderly person that enjoys peanut butter on toast in the morning. It's deadly," said Nebraska Sen. Mike Johanns.

Today, over 100 more products were recalled. Some grocery stores are using discount card lists to contact customers.

And the government's reaching out online:  "Blogs, and twitter and widgets that go onto websites. Podcasts," said Adm. Ali Khan.

Today, as one lawmaker ate a peanut butter sandwich to prove it's safe: "I eat peanut butter ... It's good for you!" said Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, FEMA warned that some meals given to Kentucky storm victims contained items on the recall list.

And lawmakers learned the peanut company of America's Texas plant has never been inspected.

"Should I be alarmed by that? I mean, how many MORE of these instances are there in the United States?" asked Harkin.

The company faces a criminal investigation over internal tests that found salmonella before products were shipped. 

"I'd like to see some people go to jail!" said Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy.

In Washington, the government is halting federal contracts for at least a year with that company, and pulled its CEO from a federal peanut safety board.