Originally published January 29 2009
Peanut Processing Plant Knowingly Sold Tainted Products
by Jo Hartley
(NaturalNews) It has just been released by federal officials that the Georgia peanut plant linked to a salmonella outbreak shipped out contaminated peanut butter knowingly twelve times in the past two years. This current outbreak has killed eight people and affected over 500 others.
Salmonella is present in animal feces. Foods can become contaminated by infected handlers who do not effectively wash hands with soap after using the restroom. This bacteria thrives in a moist environment.
Salmonella bacteria causes an infection that includes diarrhea, fever, and cramping within 12 to 72 hours of exposure. The symptoms typically last between four and seven days. Most people infected will recover without treatment. Infants, elderly, and people with weak immune systems may become severely ill, however. Salmonella can even be fatal.
Because of a 2007 outbreak at a facility in Georgia that makes Peter Pan peanut butter, food safety experts learned that salmonella bacteria can lie dormant in peanut butter and become active when ingested.
The FDA and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention have been investigating this most recent salmonella outbreak and have recently found that the Peanut Corporation of America detected salmonella in internal tests twelve times in 2007 and 2008. Sometimes they received positive salmonella results from different laboratories. Despite these positive detections, however, their products were sold.
Companies are not required to disclose internal test results to the FDA or state regulators. For this reason, officials were not aware of the situation.
The peanut products made at the company's Georgia plant are not sold directly to the public. They are utilized by other food manufacturers for making cookies, crackers, bars, cereal, candy, ice cream, and dog food. Some of the largest food manufacturers have now recalled over 100 products believed to be made with tainted ingredients.
Federal investigators have also now stated that four strains of salmonella have been detected at the Georgia plant. One strain was found from the floor near a restroom. The outbreak has now spread to 43 states and Canada and is ongoing. Approximately half the people sickened have been children.
Major-label peanut butter is not thought to be contaminated with this salmonella outbreak and is considered safe to eat. The makers of several major brands have been making efforts to assure the public that their peanut butters are not included in this outbreak.
Though Peanut Corporation of America was not required to inform regulators about its internal salmonella tests, it appears that the company violated federal law because foods are required to be produced under conditions that do not harm health.
Whether the company will face criminal charges has not yet been determined. Stewart Parnell, the company's owner and president, has not issued any statements. The company has e-mailed a statement, however, stating that it "has cooperated fully with FDA from day one during the course of this investigation. We have shared with them every record that they have asked for that is in our possession and we will continue to do so."
The company halted production at the plant involved when the FDA confirmed it was the source of the current outbreak. FDA officials have given the company the freedom to restart production, but first the company will have to address a list of manufacturing deficiencies. This list will be released to the public as well.
FDA officials have not determined how the plant was contaminated or how the bacteria contaminated the peanut products. State inspection records have shown a pattern of unsanitary conditions over several years, however. Inspectors flagged the situations, but every time it was only determined that routine follow-up was warranted. Peanut Corporation of America was never closed by the state or penalized in any way.
The FDA never actually inspected this plant. This duty fell to the Georgia Department of Agriculture under a contract because the FDA says it does not have the staff necessary to visit every domestic food production facility in the US.
The last inspected of the Georgia plants by state inspectors occurred in October, 2008. This was during the time that the contaminated products were being produced, according to inspection records. No tests were performed to test the factory or the products for salmonella during this inspection.
The FDA is currently reviewing the state's inspection process to determine whether the state officials would have detected the salmonella bacteria if necessary tests had been performed.
About the authorJo Hartley
Wife, Mother of 8, and Grandmother of 2
Jo is a 41 year old home educator who has always gravitated toward a natural approach to life. She enjoys learning as much as possible about just about anything!
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