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.