The outbreak that started here in Georgia has cost eight lives, sickened an estimated 19,000 people in 43 states and triggered recalls ranging from TV dinners and snack bars labeled organic to ready-made meals for disaster relief.
And the peanut company owner won’t eat his own products:
See the jar, the congressman challenged Stewart Parnell, holding up a container of the peanut seller’s products and asking if he’d dare eat them. Parnell pleaded the Fifth.
The owner of the peanut company at the heart of the massive salmonella recall refused to answer the lawmaker’s questions — or any others — Wednesday about the bacteria-tainted products he defiantly told employees to ship to some 50 manufacturers of cookies, crackers and ice cream. […]
The government raided the company’s Georgia plant on Monday, and Peanut Corp. closed its Plainview, Texas, facility. Food producers in most states are not required to alert health regulators if internal tests show possible contamination at their plants… The House panel released e-mails obtained by its investigators showing Parnell ordered products identified with salmonella to be shipped and quoting his complaints that tests discovering the contaminated food were “costing us huge $$$$$.”
The president of the peanut company linked to a nationwide salmonella outbreak serves on an industry advisory board that helps the U.S. Department of Agriculture set quality standards for peanuts.
Stewart Parnell, president of Peanut Corp. of America, based in Lynchburg, Va., was first appointed to the USDA’s Peanut Standards Board in July 2005 and was reappointed in October for a second term that runs until June 2011, according to the USDA.
What about the FDA? Obama Foodorama takes us to the hearing room 4 1/2 hours in:
…fireworks finally happen. Rep. John Dingell (MI) is wheeled in in his wheelchair–he’s older than the hills—and starts questioning FDA’s Dr. Stephen Sundlof. Rep. Dingell asks more and more pointed questions about how FDA failed to notice what was going on in the outbreak, and Sundlof, ducks, dodges, gives canned sound bytes, dodges some more.
Finally Rep. Dingell loses patience and says “You couldn’t inspect this company [Peanut Corporation of America] for eight years?! Either you don’t have the resources you need to inspect, or you’re incompetent. I’d tend to believe you’re incompetent, because what I’m getting from you is a modified reluctance to use resources!”
Did someone say safety net?
Interviews and government records show that state and federal inspectors do not require the peanut industry to inform the public — or even the government — of salmonella contamination in its plants. And industry giants like Kellogg used processed peanuts in a variety of products but relied on the factory to perform safety testing and divulge any problems.
At the same time, processed peanuts have been finding their way into more and more foods as a low-cost yet tasty additive, making tainted products harder to track.
Problems emerged in southwest Georgia’s peanut country in 2004, when a whistle-blower reported that the food-product giant ConAgra Foods had found salmonella in peanut butter at its plant in Sylvester, Ga., 75 miles from Blakely. But when plant officials declined to release their laboratory tests, the Food and Drug Administration did not pursue the records and was unable to confirm the report of salmonella.
The government finally demanded the records three years later, and verified the whistle-blower’s claims, after hundreds of people were sickened by salmonella-tainted peanut butter produced at the plant in 2007. Even then, ConAgra insisted that the government not make those records public, according to documents obtained last week by The New York Times. Calling its testing proprietary, ConAgra told the food agency in a Feb. 27, 2007, letter: “Once F.D.A. has completed its review of the documents, please return them to ConAgra Foods or shred.”
You might remember last summer’s tomatoes and peppers. Before the questions were answered from that one we’re into this one. When will we learn?