Fund Okayed for Peanut Salmonella Victims

Yesterday, U.S. bankruptcy judge, William E. Anderson, ordered <"">Peanut Corporation of America’s (PCA) insurance carrier to ensure $12 million are available to reimburse those who suffered health complications as a result of the massive Salmonella outbreak that originated from contamination at the PCA, reported CNN.

According Trustee Roy V. Creasy of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Virginia, Lynchburg Division, claims have to be submitted to a claims administrator by October 31, said CNN.

The outbreak sickened hundreds of people and sparked thousands of food recalls earlier this year, and is at the center of a massive number of personal injury claims. The deadline to file such claims was extended by over four months to October 31, 2009, reported, previously. At last count, over $200 million had been filed in claims against PCA in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Lynchburg, said Judge Anderson granted a U.S. trustee’s motion to extend the claims deadline; the deadline for damage claims from commercial outlets was earlier this summer.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC), peanut paste, peanut butter, and other PCA products sickened over 700 people nationwide. Because PCA supplied peanut ingredients to hundreds of other food companies, the number of recalls related to the Salmonella outbreak came close to 4,000.

During the Food & Drug Administration’s (FDA) investigation of the illnesses, it quickly became clear that oversight of the PCA Georgia plant at the center of the outbreak had been lax, at best. According to the Atlanta Constitution Journal, the Blakely, Georgia facility was inspected by the state health department on 184 occasions since 2006; however, 114 of those inspections lasted less than two hours. Not surprisingly, none of these inspections found evidence of the mold, cockroaches, and salmonella contamination uncovered by the FDA when it investigated the plant in January.

A second PCA plant in Texas, which was closed due to deplorable conditions last February, was never properly licensed, although a state inspector who visited the plant three times since 2005 indicated in his reports that the facility was licensed correctly.

PCA is now the focus of a criminal probe being conducted by the US Justice Department. In February, the FBI executed search warrants at the PCA Georgia plant and at its headquarters in Virginia. Evidence has also emerged that PCA knowingly shipped products that had tested positive for Salmonella. In February, PCA owner Stewart Parnell was subpoenaed to testify at a Congressional hearing into the outbreak, and although he appeared, he invoked his constitutional right not to incriminate himself.

According to The News & Advance previously, the claims against PCA include eight wrongful death claims; each seek damages in the amount of $10 million. Another 86 claims, filed by people sickened by PCA ingredients, seek $1 million each. About 65 other claims filed were from food companies that used PCA’s ingredients.

Some Salmonella bacteria are resistant to antibiotics and Salmonella is the most frequently reported cause of food-related outbreaks of stomach illness worldwide. Salmonella poisoning can lead to Reiter’s Syndrome, a difficult-to-treat reactive arthritis.

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