Inspector failed to flag salmonella-linked plant
Source of Article: http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5jeLgwCG-FEEYH8KZ7Tt45zOdSIKgD96O89EO0
By DANNY ROBBINS – 19 hours ago
DALLAS (AP) — A Texas agriculture inspector failed to note that a peanut plant at the center of a national salmonella outbreak was operating without a state health department license, despite at least three visits in the years before hundreds of people got sick, according to interviews and documents obtained by The Associated Press.
responsible for certifying the plant to process organic products noted after
each visit that the plant operated by Peanut Corp. of
When the plant was
finally inspected earlier this year,
Tests have since
shown that ground peanuts at the
Texas Department of Agriculture spokesman Bryan Black said if the lack of a license had been properly noted, the department would have denied it organic certification and notified the Department of State Health Services. The inspector, Gaylon Amonett, was fired on Feb. 13, the day after state health officials ordered the recall.
"We trust our inspectors to do their jobs," Black said. "Any time they do not follow the protocol, it is inexcusable."
Amonett, a 22-year TDA
employee who worked out of the agency's
The reason he checked "yes" the first time, he said, was because a plant manager told him an application for state health department licensing had been completed and was in the hands of Peanut Corp. officials at the company's headquarters. He said he continued to check "yes" in succeeding years because he assumed that the license was granted.
Amonett said the matter was his "only mistake" in his years as an inspector. Agriculture department records show that he received a merit raise on Jan. 1.
"It's an inadvertent mistake, and I'm sorry for it," he said.
Jack McCasland, environmental inspector for the Plainview-Hale County Health Department, said plant officials led him to believe the licensing process was under way when he visited the facility before it opened.
"To be honest, I never really thought to follow up on it," McCasland said. "It just never occurred to me that they wouldn't be (licensed)."
Organic certification allows companies to market products as organically grown or produced. Processors must meet standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and are monitored by a USDA-accredited entity. The Texas Department of Agriculture has served as a certifying agency since 2002.
In a memo about the
TDA declined to release the inspection reports, contending that they are exempt from disclosure under the information act.
Although food safety is technically not part of the organic certification process, the salmonella outbreak has prompted the USDA to direct organic certifying entities to report any health or safety violations to the appropriate government officials.
"While we do not expect organic inspectors to be able to detect salmonella or other pathogens, their potential sources should be obvious from such evidence as bird, rodent and other animal feces or other pest infestations," the directive stated.
writer Betsy Blaney contributed to this report from
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