Salmonella Found 12 Times at Peanut Butter Plant, Products Shipped Anyway

The peanut butter plant at the center of a nationwide <"">salmonella outbreak had a history of safety problems that were  never corrected.  What’s worse, USAToday is reporting that Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) continued to ship its peanut butter and other products even after its own tests found the bacteria at its Georgia plant in 2007 and 2008.

Products made with PCA peanut butter and peanut paste have been implicated in a mult-state salmonella outbreak that has sickened more than 500 people in 43 states since September.  PCA supplies peanut butter and paste to about 85 companies, and scores  of firms, including General Mills and the Kellogg Company, have been forced to recall products.  

Investigators are still trying to determine which foods might pose a salmonella risk, and recalls are likely to continue.  The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has even set up a searchable database to help consumers keep track of the recalls, which now number around 390.

PCA’s Blakely, Georgia plant has been closed ever since the salmonella outbreak was traced to ingredients made there.  Now, USAToday is reporting that the FDA’s investigation of that plant found records of 12 instances in 2007 and 2008 in which plant officials identified salmonella in ingredients or finished products.  The products were shipped anyway, in violation of safety regulations.  PCA also took no steps to correct the conditions that led to the salmonella contamination, USAToday said.

The extensive salmonella problems at the plant were also never uncovered by Georgia agricultural inspectors, even though they visited the facility on several occasions during that time.  According to the Associated Press, the FDA did not catch the problem either, mainly because it relied on the state inspections.

Salmonella is an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy persons infected with salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In rare circumstances, infection with salmonella can result in the organism getting into the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses such as arterial infections (i.e., infected aneurysms), endocarditis and arthritis.

This would not be the first time tainted peanut butter has been implicated in a salmonella outbreak.  In February 2007, another salmonella outbreak prompted a recall of ConAgra’s Peter Pan and Great Value Peanut Butters. Those tainted peanut butters were  ultimately blamed for  600 cases of salmonella poisoning across the country. ConAgra faulted a leaky roof and malfunctioning sprinkler system at its production facility for causing the salmonella contamination. The plant in Sylvester, Georgia was closed due to the recall, but reopened later that summer.

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