Associated Press

Georgia Ag. commish calls for food safety division

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By GREG BLUESTEIN , 02.04.09, 05:44 PM EST


Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin called for a new state division that would focus on food safety monitoring in the wake of a widespread salmonella outbreak linked to a southwest Georgia peanut plant.

Irvin said Wednesday the division would "give more attention to (food safety) than we have in the past" after the Peanut Corp. of America's plant in Blakely, Ga., was blamed for the outbreak that has sickened hundreds and may have caused as many as eight deaths.


Irvin's department came under fire after a state inspector who toured the plant in October noted only two minor violations, but less than three months later federal agents who swarmed the plant found roaches, mold, a leaking roof and other problems.

The Food and Drug Administration said the plant's internal records show at least a dozen positive tests for salmonella, and federal authorities said they were working on a criminal investigation.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is also reviewing whether the company violated state laws, and Gov. Sonny Perdue said Wednesday he supported criminal charges if the plant knowingly broke food safety laws.

"When we have people who don't take that responsibility seriously, when we have people who violate that sacred chain of command in food safety, then something must be done," the governor told a gathering of hundreds of agricultural leaders.

He said a violation of the public's trust in the food system is "a criminal action that will not be tolerated, cannot be tolerated, because we've got to have trust in the food supply chain."

Meanwhile, Georgia lawmakers are pushing a measure that would require Georgia food makers to share results of internal tests with state inspectors. Food safety experts, government groups and industry lobbies say few states, if any, have such a requirement.

Food makers would have to alert state inspectors within a day of the results of internal tests that show a contaminant under the proposal. It would also require the companies to conduct the tests at least once each year.

"When people's lives are at stake, food safety inspections should not be subject to lax regulations," said state Sen. John Bulloch, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee. "Consumers must be assured their food is safe and we must protect the integrity of Georgia's producers."



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