Thursday, January 29, 2009

Salmonella

Turns out the Peanut Corporation of America plant that shipped the tainted peanut butter knew the products it sent into the food supply were tainted.

An FDA inspection found that, on a dozen occasions, the company tested its product and found salmonella. But rather than destory the products, the company retested the products until they tested negative, and then sold them.

Oddly enough, that's illegal.

The Georgia food plant that federal investigators say knowingly shipped contaminated peanut butter also had mold growing on its ceiling and walls, and it has foot-long gaps in its roof, according to results of a federal inspection.

More than 500 people in 43 states have been sickened, and eight have died, after eating crackers and other products made with peanut butter from the plant, which is owned by the Peanut Corporation of America. More than 100 children under the age of 5 are among those who have been sickened.

The plant sells its peanut paste to some of the nation’s largest food manufacturers, including Kellogg and McKee Foods. As a result of the contamination, more than 100 products have been recalled, mostly cookies and crackers.

Officials from the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention traced the outbreak to the Peanut Corporation of America plant in Blakely, Ga. On Jan. 9, investigators descended on the plant for a thorough inspection, which was completed Tuesday.

The report from the inspection, first posted on the Internet by Bill Marler [See the inspection report here], a lawyer, cites 12 instances in 2007 and 2008 in which the company’s own tests of its product found contamination by salmonella.

In each case, the report states, “after the firm retested the product and received a negative status, the product was shipped in interstate commerce.”

It is illegal for a company to continue testing a product until it gets a clean test, said Michael Taylor, a food safety expert at George Washington University.
The company made the business decison to ship the tainted product instead of destroying it. Rather than eat the financial loss, it preferred to let people eat contaminated food, and let the companies it sells to handle the recall -- and shoulder its costs.

I will wait impatiently for the murder charges to be filed. Because if there aren't very serious consequences -- consequences that outweigh the costs that sometimes accompany doing business the right way -- this will happen over and over again.

And if you think this tragic, sordid episode is an argument in favor of greater regulatory oversight and less reliance on the self-regulation favored by Republicans, you're right.

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