Federal health officials are launching a criminal investigation into the manufacturing practices at the Georgia processing plant which made contaminated peanut butter and peanut paste which have caused hundreds of people throughout the United States to suffer salmonella food poisoning.
As a result of what appear to be unsanitary plant conditions and poor manufacturing practices, peanut recalls have been issued for over 400 different products which contain peanut paste or peanut butter made by Peanut Corporation of America at their Blakely, Georgia plant.
The peanut products may be contaminated with Salmonella typhimurium, which is the same strain of bacteria which has been linked to at least 529 cases of food poisoning since September 2008 and 8 salmonella deaths.
On January 30, 2009, federal health officials opened a criminal investigation into the manufacturing practices and conditions at the plant where the peanuts were processed after inspections found bad sanitation practices and unhygienic conditions, including evidence of mold, roaches, a leaking roof and other problems.
FDA officials now say that the plant had a Salmonella problem for years which were not properly addressed.
It appears that Peanut Corp. may have been aware of the potential salmonella contamination, but continued to ship peanut butter and peanut paste anyway, endangering the lives of millions of Americans.
The FDA indicates that Peanut Corp.’s own internal microbiological testing found strains of salmonella in peanut paste, peanut butter, peanut meal, peanut granules and oil-roasted, salted peanuts during 2007 and 2008. However, experts suggest that they were “lab shopping” and shipped products anyway after they obtained a subsequent negative lab test, even though no changes were made to the products or manufacturing processes.
According to an Associated Press report, peanuts exported by Peanut Corp. weeks before the salmonella peanut butter outbreak surfaced in September 2008, were stopped from being returned into the United States after they were found to contain a “filthy, putrid or decomposed substance” which was found to be unfit for food.
Although Peanut Corporation of America only makes about 1 percent of all peanut products in America, their products are used by over 100 other manufacturers in their peanut butter crackers, peanut butter cookies, peanut butter ice cream and other foods that contain peanut flavor.
While criminal charges from food safety violations are rare, the probe could lead to regulatory actions to keep the company from resuming production of peanut products or could result in hefty fines.
Peanut Corporation of America will also likely face substantial liability through peanut recall lawsuits which are being investigated and filed by food poisoning lawyers on behalf of individuals who have been diagnosed with salmonella illness.