February 11, 2009

 

FBI agents descend on PCA plant Monday

Source of Article: http://www.earlycountynews.com/news/2009/0211/front_page/002.html

 

Congressional hearings into the salmonella outbreak which has brought the scrutiny of the entire nation down on Peanut Corporation of America begin today in Washington.

FBI and FDA investigators converged on the PCA plant in Blakley Monday gathering evidence for the criminal investigation into the actions which led to the salmonella outbreak.

The GBI also launched an investigation last week, but later announced that they would defer any charges against the company to the FBI.

The agents and the FBI mobile command center set up on the property were gone by the end of the day.

The number of deaths blamed on the outbreak stands at eight, unchanged from last week. The number of cases has grown to nearly 600, however, and the number of recalled products has exploded to over 1,500.

With state and federal officials already calling for criminal investigations, the situtation took a turn for the worse Friday when the FDA alleged PCA knowingly shipped some contaminated product without retesting.

After reviewing testing and shipment dates, the FDA stated "it was discovered that not only did the company ship some of the lots before retesting for the bacterium was completed, they also shipped some lots without ever having a second test performed, even though the first test was positive for salmonella."

The new findings show that the plant sometimes shipped products before receiving results of salmonella tests. Other times, the company shipped products, then later received test results that were positive for salmonella, the report stated. Sometimes no additional testing appears to have been done, the FDA said. It remains unclear whether Peanut Corp. alerted its customers to the positive salmonella test results.

Some of the findings in FDA's Friday report were challenged by the company in a statement which stated, "our top priority has been and will continue to be to ensure the public safety and to work promptly to remove all potentially contaminated products out of the marketplace."

Other developments in the news media over the past week included news that the PCA plant in Plainview, Texas, while properly registered with the FDA, operated several years without a state license and without being inspected.

The plant manager stated he did not know why licensing forms had not been completed since he sent them to the company's Virginia headquarters more than a year ago.

The News learned Tuesday the company was voluntarily suspending operations at the Texas plant while state and federal health officials investigate procedures and food safety records there.

An article in the Lynchburg News Advance noted PCA was cited by the Food and Drug Administration in 1990 for shipping peanut products containing aflatoxin from its Plainview, Texas, plant.

The citation also stated, "We note you have been warned previously concerning the use of aflatoxin contaminated products."

And Sunday, contrary to previous statements, the company now says it did sell products directly to retail outlets, including Dollar General. As a result of the prior failure to acknowledge those sales, the retail items have not been included in the list of products recalled.

Brand names include Casey's Dry Roasted Peanuts, Casey's Honey Roasted Peanuts, Parnell's Pride Dry Roasted Salted Peanuts and Reggie's Ballpark Style Peanuts.

One estimate indicates the salmonella related recall and news of the investigation of PCA's operations has impacted the sale of peanut food products by about 25 percent.

The lack of public confidence resulting from the PCA-salmonella outbreak-recall news, coupled with a huge, 900,000 ton surplus from last year's record crop and a economic recession, pose a problem for farmers and the peanut industry as planting season approaches.

 

 

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