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Criminal Charges May Be Filed Against Peanut Plant

Posted by Jane Akre
Friday, January 30, 2009 4:21 PM EST
Category: Major Medical
Tags: FDA, Salmonella, Food Borne Illness, Peanut Butter Recall, PCA, food Safety, Public Health

Criminal charges may be filed against PCA.

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The state of Georgia may pursue criminal charges against Peanut Corporation of America (PCA), whose products are linked to a nationwide salmonella outbreak, reports CNN.

The state agriculture commissioner has asked Gov. Sonny Perdue to determine if the Georgia Bureau of Investigation can look into filing criminal charges against PCA.

The Blakely, Georgia plant is at the center of a nationwide peanut and peanut butter recall that has sickened more than 500 and is linked to eight deaths.

And the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the federal government had launched a criminal investigation into the Georgia plant. The Department of Justice can open a criminal probe into food or drug manufacturers monitored by the Food and Drug Administration.

Particularly troublesome is news that the Blakely, Georgia facility had detected salmonella in samples and sent them out to be retested by an independent lab, J. Leek Associates. The lab director says she didn’t know the batches had already been determined to contain salmonella.

Darlene Cowart, president of the lab, has been called by Rep. Henry Waxman to testify February 11th in Washington about the role the lab played in testing and issuing a report about the product’s safety, which then led to the tainted peanut butter to be shipped across the country.

“We want to cooperate with them fully,” Cowart said Friday. “We’ve done absolutely nothing wrong. We run a good lab, with superior standards.”

Another lab, Diebel Labs Inc. reportedly also did testing for PCA’s Blakely facility. Charles Diebel has been asked to testify before Congress as well.

Just this past week the FDA reported a dozen instances over the past two years where peanut butter and paste had detectable levels of salmonella. Peanut Corporation of America then sent the samples out to be retested. When that lab issued a report it did not find salmonella, PCA shipped out the batches.

What’s wrong with that?

C. Andrew Childers, an attorney with Childers, Buck, and Schlueter L.L.P. in Atlanta, handing about five salmonella poisoning cases so far, says the company should have known better.

“If you’ve got a big batch of peanut butter and you take a sample, there will not be salmonella in every sample. They knew they had a problem and they sent it out anyway. They should have dumped the entire batch and cleaned the lines instead,” he tells IB News (Childers & Schlueter are IB Regional News Partners).

The complete accounting of what was found at the plant during various inspections can be found in FDA form 483 on the agency's Web site.

The FDA inspector reports on his visit to the Blakely, Georgia plant during an inspection from January 9 to January 27, 2009, where he finds that peanut paste was found contaminated with three different types of salmonella. A floor crack near the wash room and a sample taken from the wall near pallets of finished product also tested positive for salmonella. Mold was observed growing on the ceiling and walls in the firms cooler used for finished product storage.

The FDA began inspecting the Georgia plant in January after the salmonella outbreak first began to be traced from the Minnesota Department of Health to King Nut peanut butter made at the Blakely plant. #


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