Effect Measure

Food safety system: Fail

Even as the the peanut cum salmonella recall spreads (sorry, couldn’t resist), we learn that the Peanut Corporation of America plant in Blakely, Georgia thought to be its source has a history of “problems”:

The plant in Georgia that produced peanut butter tainted by salmonella has a history of sanitation lapses and was cited repeatedly in 2006 and 2007 for having dirty surfaces and grease residue and dirt buildup throughout the plant, according to health inspection reports. Inspection reports from 2008 found the plant repeatedly in violation of cleanliness standards.

Inspections of the plant in Blakely, Ga., by the State Agriculture Department found areas of rust that could flake into food, gaps in warehouse doors large enough for rodents to get through, unmarked spray bottles and containers and numerous violations of other practices designed to prevent food contamination. The plant, owned by the Peanut Corporation of America of Lynchburg, Va., has been shut down.

A typical entry from an inspection report, dated Aug. 23, 2007, said: ?The food-contact surfaces of re-work kettle in the butter room department were not properly cleaned and sanitized.? Additional entries noted: ?The food-contact surfaces of the bulk oil roast transfer belt? in a particular room ?were not properly cleaned and sanitized. The food-contact surfaces of pan without wheels in the blanching department were not properly cleaned and sanitized.? (Roni Caryn Rabin, New York Times)

The Times found this and other code violations inspection reports under Georgia’s open records law. Many violations are the usual sanitary violations indicating sloppy practices and lack of attention to cleanliness. The state inspections were done under contract from the FDA. It isn’t clear from the Times story what sanctions, if any, were invoked. The story gets worse. The AP is reporting that four different strains of salmonella were found by the company in the plant on 12 separate occasions. As soon as they got a negative test in another lab they shipped the products. Obviously nothing effective was done to stop this and the result is over 500 reported cases of salmonella in 43 states and 8 deaths. So far 390 products from a bewildering number and kind of companies have been recalled by their manufacturers.

Food safety: Massive Fail.

Meanwhile the new Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack, is promising to fix the food safety system, starting with naming a new director of the Food Safety and Inspection Service. It’s an undersecretary position that requires Senate confirmation. Two names are floating out there (thanks to the Washington Post), and both are food safety veterans with good records: Caroline Smith-Dewall, food safety director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest and former FSIS administrator Barbara J. Masters, currently senior policy adviser at a Washington law firm. These are good food safety advocates, and would be good choices, but there are other names out there, too, including (according to WaPO) Mike Doyle, director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia; Mike Taylor, a Food and Drug Administration veteran and currently a research professor at George Washington University; and Bill Marler, a Seattle-based attorney. Marler specializes in salmonella cases. How appropriate.

There are a lot of sub-cabinet level slots to fill at USDA, but it seems food safety is getting the Obama administration’s attention first. Good move.


  1. #1 SrrAB
    January 28, 2009

    This news combined with the news that the plant was deliberately selling tainted product is horrifying. I think it’s a safe bet this plant is going to go down after paying out millions in punitive damages. It’s also a wonder how this got past the Georgia department of agriculture. Repeat violations from 2006-2008 probably ought to warrant at some point a complete shutdown and thorough cleaning.

  2. #2 Phila
    January 28, 2009

    This news combined with the news that the plant was deliberately selling tainted product is horrifying.

    Unfortunately, that’s what businesses have a tendency to do, when they think they can get away with it. Which is why we have an FDA in the first place.

    God knows I don’t wish salmonella on anyone. But if any hardcore libertarians were unlucky enough to come down with it, I hope it helped them to rethink a few pet assumptions.

  3. #3 g336
    January 28, 2009

    Let’s see…

    PCA’s HQ is in Lynchburg VA. What else is in Lynchburg…?

    Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority… and…

    Liberty (sic!) Baptist University!

    Aha, now we’re getting warm (or a low-grade fever)…

    What else came from Liberty (sic!) Baptist University…?

    Right! Lots and lots of ill-qualified lawyers to serve in the Department of Justice under Bush!

    So, what do you think the chances are that some of PCA’s management also came from Liberty (sic!) Baptist University…?

    Faith-based education meets faith-based food safety science: “Eat this and pray!”

  4. #4 daedalus2u
    January 29, 2009

    “Inspections are worthless if companies can test and retest until they receive the results they want,”

    I don’t think new legislation is needed in this particular case. People died from this salmonella. Prosecuting those individuals involved for criminally negligent homicide is the answer in this case.

    It went across state lines, that makes it a federal case.

  5. #5 SrrAB
    January 29, 2009

    Phila wrote:

    But if any hardcore libertarians were unlucky enough to come down with it, I hope it helped them to rethink a few pet assumptions.

    Yes! win.

  6. #6 Obamafoodorama
    January 29, 2009

    Would just like to point out that USDA’s fsis has nothing to do with the pnutbutter recall, as they do safety for meat, poultry eggs. FDA covers peanuts once they’re out of the shell, in a byzantine demarcation of duties that has led to the current food safety crisis. But while we’re talking about FSIS, Barbara J. Masters is a TERRIBLE choice; she’s a lobbyist who’s repeatedly gone against both food safety agencies to demolish standards. Not good news for safe food if she’s chosen. Read more:
    http://tinyurl.com/c6lozj Marler’s the best man for the fsis job. Completely free of corporate attachments.

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