NEW YORK TIMES: The Peanut Corporation of America closed its processing plant in Plainview, Tex., on Monday night after a laboratory test indicated possible salmonella contamination, a development that threatens to widen one of the largest food recalls ever and raises more questions about why the government allowed the plant to operate. The company’s plant in Blakely, Ga., was identified a month ago as the source of a nationwide salmonella outbreak. And even though investigators soon determined that the company may have deliberately shipped contaminated products to some of the nation’s largest food makers, officials allowed the company’s plant in Texas to continue supplying customers.
Former workers at the Texas plant said in interviews with The New York Times that the facility was “disgusting” and shared many of the problems found in the plant in Georgia. But state and federal health officials said they did not have enough evidence to close the Texas plant. The Texas Department of State Health Services released a statement on Tuesday saying that “it does not appear that any of the implicated products — peanut meal, granulated peanuts and dry roasted peanuts — have reached consumers.” But a top official at the food and drug agency was far less reassuring, saying the investigation in Texas was continuing.
“I can’t speculate where this might lead us and whether another or expanded recall would be initiated” based on conditions at the Texas plant, said Michael Rogers, director of the F.D.A.’s division of field investigation. Meanwhile, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents and criminal investigators from the food agency descended on the Peanut Corporation’s plant in Georgia on Monday and hauled away “a whole bunch of stuff,” said George Straitt, a food and drug agency spokesman. MORE
NEW YORK TIMES: Raw peanuts were stored next to the finished peanut butter. The roaster was not calibrated to kill deadly germs. Dispirited workers on minimum wage, supplied by temp agencies, donned their uniforms at home, potentially dragging contaminants into the plant, which also had rodents. Even the roof of the Peanut Corporation of America plant here in rural southwest Georgia was an obvious risk, given that salmonella thrives in water and the facility should have been kept bone dry. “It leaked when it rained,” said Frank Hardrick, 40, an assistant manager who, along with four other workers, described life inside the plant. “Different crews would come in to work on it, but it would still leak.”
The conditions at the plant, more circa 1955 than 2009, would have been enough to cause alarm in an industry where sanitation can be a matter of life and death, food experts said. But they were only one element in the salmonella outbreak and subsequent food safety train wreck that started here and swept through the country — claiming eight lives, sickening an estimated 19,000 people in 43 states and spurring an array of recalls, including TV dinners, snack bars labeled organic and ready-made meals for disaster relief.
An examination of the Blakely case reveals a badly frayed food safety net. Interviews and government records show that state and federal inspectors do not require the peanut industry to inform the public — or even the government — of salmonella contamination in its plants. And industry giants like Kellogg used processed peanuts in a variety of products but relied on the factory to perform safety testing and divulge any problems. At the same time, processed peanuts have been finding their way into more and more foods as a low-cost yet tasty additive, making tainted products harder to track. MORE