When Marler Clark clients, Billie Rector went to St. Joseph Hospital in mid-January complaining of nausea and wrenching stomach pain, doctors at first suspected his gallbladder. When his 3-year-old daughter, Payton, was hospitalized a day later because of bloody diarrhea, doctors wondered if both family members might have been infected with E. coli. It turned out that the little girl, at least, was among the 666 people in 44 states to become ill after eating peanut products tainted with Salmonella typhimurium.

Rector said that under questioning from Whatcom County public-health officials, he and wife Shannon narrowed the likely source of poisoning to the Austin brand of peanut-butter crackers, one of more than 2,100 products that have been voluntarily recalled during the nationwide salmonella outbreak.  Contaminated peanut products traced to peanut butter and peanut paste made by a Peanut Corp. of America plant in Blakely, Ga., also have been linked to at least nine deaths nationwide.

The Food and Drug Administration has said the company knowingly released its products into the nationwide food chain, even though Peanut Corp. officials knew it was tainted with salmonella.

"It makes me sick that my 3-year-old and husband were hospitalized so this company could save a few bucks and not pay to keep their building up to code," Shannon, 29, said in an e-mail interview.