Worker: I Saw Rat Roasting In Peanut Plant

Source of Article:  http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/02/03/earlyshow/health/main4771754.shtml

 

Tells Jeff Glor He Also Saw Rat Droppings, Roaches, Huge Holes In Roof Of Ga. Facility Being Probed In Salmonella Outbreak


(CBS) A former employee of the Georgia peanut plant at the center of a criminal investigation in a nationwide salmonella outbreak says he saw a rat dry-roasting in a peanut area.

Jonathan Prather was one of 50 people who lost their jobs last month when the Peanut Corporation of America shut down its plant in Blakely.

The outbreak is blamed in as many as eight deaths and has sickened some 500 people, authorities say. Many products made with peanut paste from the plant have been recalled.

In addition, a peanut processing plant in Texas run by the Virginia company blamed for the outbreak operated for years un-inspected and unlicensed by government health officials, The Associated Press has learned.

Prather, 29, told Early Show national correspondent Jeff Glor the facility is dirty.

Prather describes a building in which roaches were a constant problem, saying, "Roaches get up there in the dry roast. Some of them blend in with the peanuts. You'd never know they're there."

Health inspectors also noticed roaches as they searched for the source of the salmonella, saying, "A live roach and several dead roaches were observed in the firm's wash room."

But, three or four months ago, Prather says, he saw the rat "dry roasting in the peanuts."

He says he also frequently saw rat droppings in the area where peanut products were made, where Prather worked.

Health inspectors say they found "gaping" holes in walls, but didn't report evidence of rodents or droppings. They did find holes elsewhere, saying, "There were open gaps observed as large as ... two-and-a-half feet at the air conditioner intakes located in the roof of the firm."

Prather says there were "plenty of holes in the roof, throughout the roof. And when it rained, water just came through the whole plant."

Mold was also spotted by investigators, as were mops washed in the same sink as peanut product production equipment, Glor points out.

"Any of these alleged violations," Glor says, "could be the source of salmonella, which the company's own documents say was discovered at least a dozen times. Peanut Corporation of America is accused of retesting the samples, "lab shopping," until it got favorable results."

Prather says it saddens him that many people have been impacted by the salmonella, adding he's speaking out now because his mother always raised him to tell the truth.

Other employees, Glor notes, have been quoted as saying they did not see problems like the ones depicted by Prather.

On The Early Show Tuesday, former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner David Kessler told co-anchor <B<>, "If there were ever an example that our food safety system is broken, this (the situation at the Georgia plant) is it.

Kessler says, "The nation's food safety laws were written 100 years ago. And they don't give the FDA even the basic tools of record inspection or recall. It is absolutely essential that those laws be rewritten."

He added, "Regrettably, (the FDA) lacks the authority (to properly oversee the safety of the nation's food). But there are several key bills in the Senate and the House, and they're excellent bills.

"... The problem is we don't have a system of preventive controls. We're always reacting in this country. It's always chasing the horse after it's out of the barn."

Kessler says he "was very heartened to hear the new president talk about food safety as a priority, getting a new commissioner in, and quickly, who has food safety as a top, No. 1 priority and getting FDA the authority; getting Congress to pass new food safety legislation is a must."

Still, Kessler observes, "We have the safest food system in the world, but that doesn't mean it can't be safer. And each of us has responsibilities. Making sure that our food is well-cooked, good hygiene, those things are still important.

Bottom line?

"(Our food is) certainly safe, but our system is broken. And it needs to be improved, and it needs to be improved quickly."

 

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