Mother Indicted in Case of Baby Food Tampering

By Blumenthal, David | FDA Consumer, June 1990 | Go to article overview
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Mother Indicted in Case of Baby Food Tampering


Blumenthal, David, FDA Consumer


A Gulfport, Miss., woman faces trial and a maximum of 20 years in prison for allegedly mixing broken glass in Gerber oatmeal and feeding the concoction in a nursing bottle to her 8-month-old daughter.

A grand jury in the first judicial district for Harrison County, Miss., on Dec. 7, 1989, indicted Sylvia Hortense Payton, saying she "did wilfully, unlawfully, feloniously, and intentionally, not in self-defense and not in order to prevent bodily harm to a third person, abuse and mutilate" her infant daughter, Veouis Nicole Payton.

The Gulfport police began investigating the incident on Oct. 1. Suspecting product tampering, they notified FDA the next day. FDA New Orleans district investigator James Blakely, an 18-year veteran of product tampering investigations, immediately visited the Gulfport police station to get background information.

Blakely learned that Payton allegedly told police that glass rested on the top of the cereal in a just-opened box of the baby food. But Blakely noted that if tampering or unintentional contamination had occurred at the manufacturer level, the glass probably would have settled to the bottom of the box. Also, according to Blakely, the amount of glass found in the baby food was more than would be expected if the contamination were accidental. The nursing bottle from which the child reportedly drank the diluted baby food contained a half to a full tablespoon of large, uniformly shaped glass pieces.

At the station, Blakely examined the cereal box and found no apparent tampering with the container. Furthermore, the nature of the glass fragments suggested tampering by the consumer, according to Blakely. He noted parallel scratches on several pieces, such as might occur if a household tool had been used to break up a large piece of glass.

Blakely described his findings to the police detectives and told them he suspected tampering by Payton. Together they visited Payton's apartment that same afternoon. Payton's aunt reportedly told the detectives that her niece had fed the baby the cereal at least three times on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, and that after each meal the child cried and passed bloody stools.

The detectives then interviewed Payton, whose story-according to Blakely-contradicted her aunt's. For instance, Payton reportedly told the officers that when she fed her daughter the cereal on Saturday and Sunday, the baby showed no ill effects.

Captain Wayne Payne, in charge of the Gulfport police investigation, sent detectives back that afternoon to inspect Payton's apartment. The detectives found a broken window in the child's bedroom, pieces of broken glass from the window on a sheet of notebook paper on the child's dresser, and a metal meat tenderizer on the dresser. The FDA Cincinnati district laboratory later confirmed that the glass in the cereal and nursing bottle was the same as the glass from the windowpane and dresser.

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