Peanut Corp. Lied to FDA About Salmonella-Tainted Peanuts

<"">Peanut Corp. of America (PCA) apparently lied about salmonella-tainted peanuts found at it’s Blakely, Georgia plant.   PCA products from that plant are behind a multi-state salmonella outbreak that has sickened people across the country, and sparked hundreds of food recalls.

As we reported earlier, Food & Drug Administration (FDA) inspections of the Georgia plant found that PCA shipped peanuts that tested positive for salmonella contamination at least a dozen times in 2007 and 2008.  PCA has insisted that those peanuts tested negative for the bacteria in a second round of testing.  But according to the LA Times, the FDA  reported on Friday that PCA had lied about the second batch of tests.  According to the FDA,  PCA actually shipped some of the peanuts before the second tests were completed. Other lots were shipped without testing and, in some cases, no second test was performed even after the first one came back positive.

Despite the outrageous conduct on the part of PCA, it appears that the FDA wanted to downplay the findings of its investigation.  According to the LA Times, the FDA did not make a public announcement regarding PCA’s deception.  Rather, the information was quietly buried in a revision of a report on the FDA’s website.  After The Washington Post discovered the revisions, other media outlets, including The LA Times, reported the information.

So far, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has confirmed 575 cases of salmonella poisoning in 43 states linked to tainted PCA products.  The outbreak may have contributed to eight deaths, the agency said.

PCA, which provides ingredients to 85 other food firms, has recalled everything made at its Georgia plant since January 2007. Hundreds of  products made by other firms, including the Kellogg Company and General Mills, have also been recalled.

PCA even sold potentially tainted peanut butter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency that was used in emergency food kits distributed in Kentucky following last month’s disastrous ice storm.  And last week, the US Department of Agriculture said that PCA had supplied peanut butter to the federal program that provides free school lunches to thousands of poor children.

The recalls are so widespread that the FDA has even set up a new online  database to help consumers track them.  The agency said it expects the recalls to continue, and has cautioned consumers to avoid foods made with peanut butter or paste unless they are sure the ingredients did not come from PCA.

Recent FDA inspections of the PCA Georgia plant have also turned up mold, roaches and a leaking roof. The company also didn’t clean its equipment there after finding contamination, and didn’t properly separate raw and finished products, the FDA said.  All of this has prompted lawmakers in Congress to call for an overhaul of the food safety system in the U.S.  The U.S. Justice Department has even opened a criminal probe into PCA’s conduct.

Even the FDA hasn’t escaped criticism.  According to the Associated Press, prior to the outbreak, FDA inspectors had not been to the PCA Georgia plant since 2001.

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