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FDA Issues Salmonella Guidelines for Peanuts

Mar 11, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP In the midst of the massive salmonella outbreak that sickened 683 people and was linked to the deaths of nine, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued salmonella guidelines for peanuts and may also seize products contaminated with the dangerous and sometimes deadly pathogen, said Reuters.  The new FDA safety guidelines were issued yesterday to those companies using peanut products.

In January, the salmonella outbreak was traced to a Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) plant in Blakely, Georgia, resulting in its closure and subsequent bankruptcy.  FDA inspections revealed that PCA knowingly shipped salmonella-tainted products from that plant and emails revealed at a Congressional hearing found that PCA owner Stewart Parnell had repeatedly urged his employees to do so.

The guidelines, which relate to the PCA salmonella outbreak, note that while salmonella is sensitive to heat, the heat-sensitive pathogen becomes heat-resistant when in high-fat environments, such as what exists in peanut butter, reported Reuters.

Reuters explained that when peanuts are roasted improperly and then are used to make peanut butter or paste, salmonella bacteria thrive, especially if that contaminated product is in fat in a product such as ice cream, according to the FDA.  Also, baking might not kill the pathogen because of lowered or inconsistent temperatures.  Now, the FDA guidelines are strongly suggesting that food manufacturers only purchase peanut products from “suppliers with validated processes in place to adequately reduce the presence of Salmonella species," said Reuters.  The FDA also suggested those companies conduct studies to determine if salmonella exists in their products.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported yesterday that the outbreak has spanned 46 states, said Reuters, and resulted in the recall of 3,235 products.  Illnesses continue to come in, mostly from people who ate recalled peanut butter crackers.

Meanwhile, PCA plant inspections unearthed revolting conditions, including—at the Texas plant—dead rodents, rodent excrement, and bird feathers in a crawl space above a production area that were being blown into the production area.  An inspection of its Georgia plant—which was cited for mold, roaches, and a leaking roof—revealed that PCA shipped salmonella-tainted peanuts at least a dozen times in 2007 and 2008; some products were shipped before a second round of testing was conducted.

A third facility was found to have flaking paint and evidence of rodents in 2007 and 2008. PCA promised to fix the problems, reported the AP in an earlier article; however, when inspectors returned in 2008 to ensure this was done, they found two dead mice in traps in a warehouse, as well as an open door, and a 32-inch-wide gap in strip curtains “completely exposed to the entrance of pests,” said the AP. Mold was also found on the outside of 43 totes of blanched peanuts.

Now, hundreds of companies are facing financial and legal problems. These include Kellogg, which is named in at least six lawsuits; Forward Foods, which filed for bankruptcy after being forced to recall 75 percent of its products; and Scotts, which is suing its supplier over claims it lied about peanut meal used in wild bird seed, which originated at PCA. Scotts said the deception caused it “substantial damages” and “significant” injury to its brand.

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