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FDA: Plant Knew Product Contaminated, Shipped Anyways

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The peanut plant responsible for the recent salmonella outbreak knew its products contained the bacteria, but shipped the tainted product anyways. The Peanut Corporation of America ignored positive tests for the bacteria a dozen times in 2007 and 2008. This information prompted the FDA to extend the peanut recall to include peanut products from January of 2007. In fact, after the product tested positive with the company’s own tests, the plant went out and searched for a test that would return a negative result. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., described Peanut Corp.’s actions as "reprehensible and criminal" and stated that, "Not only did this company knowingly sell tainted products, it shopped for a laboratory that would provide the acceptable results they were seeking."

As if positive tests of salmonella were not enough, the FDA found ten other problems with the Blakely, Georgia peanut plant during its preliminary inspection. Mold, roaches, and gaps in the roof over areas where products are finished contributed to unsanitary conditions found at the plant. In particular, leaking roofs and gaps a half-inch to two-and-a-half feet were found near the air conditioner and were a major cause of concern because wet conditions harbor salmonella. Moreover, salmonella can live on raw peanuts but not on roasted peanuts, and the peanut plant did not take sufficient steps to ensure raw peanuts did not come in contact with the finished products- ultimately spreading the bacteria to consumer-ready products.

Over 500 people have been sickened and eight known deaths are linked to the strand of salmonella found at the plant. Peanut Corporation of America does not sell its peanut products directly to consumers, but does sell peanut butter directly to nursing homes and cafeterias – both of which serve the type of people (the elderly and children) to whom salmonella can be most dangerous. It also produces peanut paste which is used in cookies, ice cream, pet treats, and crackers, all of which are among the over 300 recalled products.

A statement issued Wednesday by Peanut Corp. apologizes to consumers and the peanut industry, stating, "we are sorry our process fell short of not only our goals, but more importantly, your expectations." Unfortunately, the apology does not undo the negligent actions of the Peanut Corporation of America and the damage done to the peanut industry. The American Peanut Council has urged consumers to visit the website www.peanutsusa.com for a list of safe peanut products.