Peanut Corp. Salmonella Toll Mounts

<"">Salmonella-tainted peanut products continue to sicken people across the country. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the number of ill in the Peanut Corp. of America (PCA) outbreak has grown to 683. Illnesses are being reported in 46 states, and at lease one person in Canada has also become sick. The death toll from the salmonella outbreak stands at nine.

Half of those infected are under age 16, while more than one in four cases is under age 5. Most of the reported illnesses have been linked to two brands of peanut butter crackers — Kellogg’s Austin and Keebler brand peanut butter crackers.

The most recent illnesses occurred just weeks ago, with the last reported on Feb. 13, the CDC said. This indicates that foods made with salmonella-contaminated PCA ingredients are still in circulation. As such, the CDC is warning consumers to check their homes for potentially dangerous products.

The list of recalled foods made with PCA products has also grown, and has now surpassed 3,500. Products that carry a salmonella risk continue to be recalled on a daily basis. A full list of recalled products is being maintained by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA).

There is also more evidence emerging 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. But 114 of those inspections lasted less than two hours. Not surprisingly, none of these inspections found evidence of mold, cockroaches and salmonella contamination that was uncovered by the FDA when it investigated the plant in January.

As we’ve previously reported, a second PCA plant in Texas – which was closed because of deplorable conditions last month – had never been properly licensed. Yet, a state inspector who visited the plant on three occasions since 2005 had actually indicated in his reports that the facility was licensed correctly.

Finally, Reuters is reporting that during testimony yesterday before a subcommittee of the U.S. House Committee on Small Business, a witness told lawmakers that the PCA debacle could cost the peanut industry as much as $1 billion.

“We are dealing with a situation of historic proportions,” said Don Koehler, executive director of the Georgia Peanut Commission. “Rebuilding in the peanut industry cannot fully begin until the outbreak is over and the recall is complete.”

Another witness, Diane Austin, vice president of Perry’s Ice Cream, told the subcommittee that her family-run operation is still trying to determine the cost of its PCA-related recalls, Reuters said.

“We do not yet have a complete accounting of the financial losses that Perry’s will face,” said Austin. “It will surely be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more.”

Austin said Perry’s Ice Cream has so far had to recall 170 tons of product and has spent 2,100 hours on the recall, Reuters said.

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