Our view on food safety: Poisonous peanuts
Source of Article: http://blogs.usatoday.com/oped/2009/02/our-view-on-foo.html
Reading the stark government report on the Georgia plant linked to the deadly salmonella outbreak is enough to make any peanut-lover ill — and wonder why the company was allowed to stay in business.
The Peanut Corp. of America's recently closed plant in
Food and Drug Administration inspectors who examined the plant last month found holes in the roof and stains that showed water regularly got into areas where the company kept finished food. There was mold on walls and ceilings in food storage areas, and roaches were found in the washroom. The building had holes where pests could come and go and a crack in the floor that tested positive for salmonella. Dirt and contamination appeared in many places, including a "slimy, black-brown residue" that suggested the company put little priority on cleaning.
Even worse, the company had clear signals of danger but ignored them. When the FDA employed a bioterrorism statute to force the company to turn over its internal tests, the agency found that at least 12 times beginning in June 2007, salmonella had shown up in finished peanut products. Instead of destroying the food, the company ordered it retested, and when subsequent tests showed no salmonella, the company shipped it. (Salmonella can thrive in pockets in peanut products, so the same product can test positive and negative.) Even after tests showed salmonella, the company failed to clean its production equipment. The FDA and the Justice Department have launched a criminal investigation, as well they should in an outbreak that has sickened more than 500 people and killed eight.
Though the company bears primary responsibility for safe products, it's the job of regulators to ensure that corners aren't being cut. Why didn't they crack down sooner in this case?
It turns out that the resource-strapped FDA had
delegated the job of routine inspections to the Georgia Department of
Agriculture. From 2006 to 2008, the state inspectors frequently cited the
plant for unsanitary conditions. Despite all this, a top
Congress, which has held numerous hearings on
food safety, reacted predictably to this latest crisis with a flurry of
proposals to give the FDA more resources and more power to monitor food
companies and order food recalls. That's all fine, if belated, but one
obvious fix stands out: Had the
If there's one thing Congress should fix, and quickly, that's it.
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