Nestlé's Inspectors Saw Rat Droppings, Rejected Peanuts
of Article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/19/AR2009031903204.html
Explores Why Others Did Not
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 20, 2009; Page A02
USA, considering whether to buy ingredients from Peanut Corporation of
America, twice sent its own inspectors to check out the company. Both
times, they rejected the company after finding sanitary problems at its
facilities in Georgia and Texas, noting rat droppings, live beetles, dead
insects and the potential for microbial contamination.
proved to be a good call.
Peanut Corporation of America stands accused by federal investigators of
knowingly selling peanut products contaminated with salmonella bacteria,
which triggered a criminal investigation, the largest food recall in
American history and an outbreak of illness that has sickened at least
691 people and killed nine since September.
and other companies that bought products from Peanut Corporation of
America told lawmakers yesterday that unlike Nestlé, they did not perform
their own inspections. Instead, they relied on third-party audits common
in the U.S. food industry.
Mackay, Kellogg's chief executive, said his company trusted audits
performed by the American Institute of Baking International, the biggest
food-inspection firm in the country. The institute conducted scheduled
inspections of PCA's facilities and never flagged serious problems. It
issued a "certificate of achievement" and a
"superior" rating last August, when PCA was getting results
from internal laboratory tests that revealed a salmonella problem in its
plant in Blakely, Ga., congressional investigators said.
gave PCA glowing reviews," said Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman
of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. "The company was
selected by PCA, paid by PCA, and realized that if they didn't give PCA a
glowing review, they were not going to get hired again.
gave PCA a certificate of achievement," added Waxman, who held up
the certificate in one hand and with the other waved a photograph, taken
by federal investigators, of dead rodents inside a PCA facility.
"How do you have a company that looks like this getting a
certificate of achievement? . . . It really makes you think there must be
released by the committee showed a comfortable relationship between the
auditor for AIB and PCA's plant manager. In one e-mail, the auditor tells
the plant manager to get the plant ready for inspection, asks the manager
to select the date and then offers holiday wishes to the manager and his
Soddy, vice president of marketing and sales for AIB, defended the audits
in a telephone interview yesterday and said that PCA "went to great
lengths to clean it up" before scheduled inspections. Others,
including Georgia state inspectors, had also missed problems in PCA's
facilities, he said.
conducted basic annual audits at a cost of about $1,000 for PCA. It
offers more rigorous inspection services, including a multi-year program
at a cost of $20,000 to $30,000, but that was not part of its contract
with the peanut company, Soddy said.
Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), chairman of
the panel's oversight and investigations subcommittee, asked why Kellogg
and other companies did not investigate their suppliers.
didn't solely rely on an auditor selected by PCA and paid by PCA,"
he said. "It conducts its own audit with its own staff. You all talk
about how safety is the number one issue. Why didn't you do the same
which has lost about $70 million because of the recall, is now sending
its own inspectors into peanut-processing plants and is no longer relying
on third-party firms paid by the processors, Mackay said. He said that
Kellogg follows that procedure for other raw materials and foods that
carry high risks for contamination, but that it is impossible for Kellogg
to inspect each of its 1,000 suppliers. And although food companies bear
some responsibility to ensure their supplies are safe, they are powerless
against a dishonest supplier, he told lawmakers.
every batch, we received a certificate of analysis from PCA, and every
batch [was] negative" for salmonella, he said. "It's extremely
difficult when you have an unethical and dishonest supplier to manage
in 2007, Kellogg purchased $5 million to $10 million worth of peanut
ingredients annually from PCA and used them in its Keebler cookies and
crackers, Famous Amos cookies and Austin peanut butter crackers, among
other items, Mackay said.
hearing was the third held by the committee into the scandal surrounding
PCA, which filed for bankruptcy protection last month. The case has
called national attention to food safety and has sparked dozens of
proposals for reform on Capitol Hill. President Obama, who has expressed
concern about the peanut butter sandwiches consumed by his 7-year-old
daughter, has flagged food safety as a priority. His proposed budget
includes additional money for food inspectors at the Food and Drug
Administration, and he has created a White House working group to
recommend ways to increase food safety.
outbreak of salmonella illness is ongoing, although officials at the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the number of new cases
has declined substantially. They said they expect new illnesses to be
reported for the next several months, because some recalled items have a
long shelf life and remain in home pantries and in some stores. The FDA
does not require retailers to prove that recalled food has been destroyed
and has no way to know how many of the more than 2,000 recalled products
are still in circulation.
can check the searchable
database for recalled products at http://www.fda.gov.