Salmonella Outbreak Company Sold Peanuts, Peanut Butter to USDA for School Lunch Programs

Peanut Corp. of America (PCA) apparently shipped truckloads of potentially <"">salmonella tainted peanuts and peanut butter to free lunch programs at schools across the country.   According to The Washington Post, PCA allowed thousands of poor children to eat the dangerous food even though it’s own tests has found salmonella in some of the products.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, eight people have died and 575 have been sickened because of the PCA salmonella outbreak.  PCA, which provides ingredients to 85 other food firms, has recalled everything made at its Blakely, Georgia plant since January 2007. Hundreds of  products made by other firms, including the Kellogg Company and General mills, have also been recalled.  The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has even set up a new online  database to help consumers track the recalls.  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.

As we reported earlier, recent FDA inspections of the Georgia plant found that PCA shipped products that tested positive for salmonella contamination at least a dozen times in 2007 and 2008.  The inspection 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.

This findings have prompted the U.S. Justice Department to open its own criminal probe of PCA. The FDA has also faced criticism for its failure to regulate PCA.  According to the Associated Press, prior to the outbreak, FDA inspectors had not been to the Georgia plant since 2001.

Now, The Washington Post is reporting that PCA sold 32 truckloads of tainted peanuts and peanut butter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for school free lunch programs.  According to the Post report, schools in California, Minnesota and Idaho received the suspected peanut products between January and November 2007.  Yesterday, the USDA suspended its contract with PCA.

It’s ironic that the tainted peanuts were sold to the USDA, which like the FDA, is charged with protecting the nation’s food supply. And while the FDA had failed to inspect the PCA Georgia plant since 2001, the USDA had sent inspectors there on at least 10 occasions between 2001 and 2007,  the Post said.  But apparently USDA inspectors were not interested in the conditions of a facility that would be making peanut butter for thousands of kids.  Rather, they were only interested in determining if PCA could handle the huge school lunch program orders.

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