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 Peanut plant found salmonella, sold products anyway

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Age : 51
Registration date : 2008-05-05

PostSubject: Peanut plant found salmonella, sold products anyway   Wed Jan 28, 2009 8:23 am

A South Georgia peanut butter plant linked to a national salmonella outbreak failed to follow safe food practices when it found evidence of the bacteria in its products and still sold them, federal health officials said Tuesday.

The plant found salmonella contamination on 12 occasions in the last two years, but the company still sold the products after an outside lab said the product was safe, federal investigators said.

During a press conference Tuesday, U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials said the Blakely, Ga., plant should have followed safe food practices and destroyed, rather than sold, the products.

“This is a practice they should not have engaged in,” Michael Rogers, director of the FDA’s field investigations division. “This is a violation of the law.”

Products from the Georgia plant, owned by Peanut Corporation of America, have been linked to a salmonella outbreak that sickened more than 500 people in 43 states and has been linked to the deaths of eight people.

Federal officials from the FDA and Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday the company’s internal records revealed that in 2007 and 2008 the company’s own labs found the peanut products contained the bacteria.

FDA officials said Tuesday that when the agency began its investigation Jan. 9, the company did not reveal to the FDA that it had tested the peanut butter and paste. “This is not information that the firm did provide us to use when we did our initial investigation,” Rogers said.

But Rogers said the company was not required to notify the FDA when its internal testing found salmonella. Investigators, he said, were only given access to the company’s lab records after invoking federal laws put into place by Homeland Security.

But Lynchburg, Va.-based Peanut Corporation of America, issued a statement Tuesday saying that the company has “cooperated fully” since the investigation into the outbreak began.

“We have shared with them [investigators] every record that they have asked for that is in our possession and we will continue to do so,” the statement said.

The company declined to comment further. A company spokesman said company officials would not comment further until they view final government reports on the investigation.

Georgia Assistant Agriculture Commissioner Oscar Garrison said the company was remiss in not following sound food safety procedures.

“Once they found the salmonella, they should have held the product … That product should never have been sold into the marketplace,” said Garrison.

He added, “They should have known there was a problem in that facility. … They did not control product when there was reason to believe there was a problem with the product. That is a violation of law. A very serious violation.”

He said the state agriculture department plans to try to get state law changed during the current legislative session to require greater disclosure of food safety tests. The House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs committee is scheduled to meet Wednesday to discuss the outbreak.

Investigators have now identified four different strains of salmonella at the Blakely plant.

The outbreak has caused the recall of more than 300 products — cookies, candy, ice cream, cereal and pet foods — produced by 70 companies.

FDA officials said they would release a detailed report Wednesday of its investigation of the plant which employs about 50. The plant has suspended operations since the outbreak.

The FDA findings came a day after the state of Georgia made its own inspection reports of the plant public, revealing the facility has a history of sanitation problems including grease and dirt buildup, unmarked chemical containers and gaps large enough for rodents in doors.

Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of food safety for the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, based in Washington, said the outbreak calls for a stiffening of regulations to close loopholes such as the one that allowed the plant not to report its discovery of salmonella to food safety officials.

“There are holes in the safety net when the state is unwilling or unable to close a plant when there are violations,” she said. “If the FDA is relying on states to perform food safety inspections, the states should be empowered to close plants down if they find violations.”
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