Salmonella Scare Closes Final Peanut Corp. Plant

<"">Peanut Corp. of America (PCA) has closed  a third – and final – plant because of a massive, nationwide salmonella outbreak linked to the company’s peanut products.   The PCA plant, located in Southeastern, Virginia, closed the same day the Lynchburg-based company filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.  The company has said that the plant, known as Tidewater Blanching, has not been tied to the salmonella outbreak.

Two other PCA plants, one in Blakely, Georgia and another in Plainview, Texas, had already been closed because of the salmonella outbreak.  Last month, PCA recalled everything made at the Georgia plant since 2007 after products there tested positive for the same strain of salmonella associated with the nationwide outbreak that has sickened more than 600 people and killed nine.

Last month, 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. At the time of that discovery, PCA officials told the Food & Drug Administration  (FDA)  that those peanuts tested negative for the bacteria in a second round of testing.  But  the FDA eventually discovered that  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.  Those same inspections of the Blakely plant also turned up mold, roaches and a leaking roof.

At least six cases of salmonella poisoning were also traced to peanuts from the Plainview plant.  It was closed early last week after salmonella was found there.  Days later, the Texas Department of Health recalled everything made in Plainview after it found dead rodents, rodent excrement and bird feathers in a crawl space above a production area.  According to the Associated Press, the plant’s air handling system was pulling debris from the infested crawl space into production areas.   Despite having been in operation since 2005, the Plainview facility was unlicensed, and had never been inspected before the salmonella outbreak.

While the Virginia facility had not been tied to the outbreak, it did have its share of problems.  According to the Associated Press, during inspections in 2007 and 2008, state health officials found flaking paint and evidence of rodents.  The problems were classified as minor, and the company promised to fix them.

But when inspectors returned a second time in 2008 to make sure this was done, they found two dead mice in traps in a warehouse, as well as an open door and a 32-inch-wide gap in strip curtains “completely exposed to the entrance of pests,” the Associated Press said. Mold was also found on the outside of 43 totes of blanched peanut.

The FDA sent a team to inspect the Virginia blanching plant last month, but its report is not yet available.

The closing of Tidewater Blanching was the result of PCA’s bankruptcy filing late last week.  In a statement released Friday, PCA’s lawyers blamed the filing on the fallout from the salmonella outbreak.  “Given the events of the past month, including the broad-based recalls of the products sold by the company and its subsidiary in Plainview, Texas, the company has no alternative but to cease operations,” the statement said. “This bankruptcy filing, while regrettable, will allow for an orderly liquidation of the company.”

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