Hearing Scheduled on Peanut Salmonella, Criminal Probe UrgedJan 30, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP The investigation into the massive peanut butter salmonella case continues and now a federal probe of the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) has been called for by government officials, reported USA Today.
The probe will look into possible criminal violations related to the salmonella outbreak that has caused many hundreds of illnesses nationwide and in Canada and which is linked to eight deaths. On Tuesday, government officials accused PCA—the sole firm linked to the contamination—of shipping products after internal testing revealed bacterial contamination on 12 separate occasions in 2007 and 2008, said USA Today. These actions were a clear violation of food safety regulations.
Meanwhile, also this week, democratic lawmakers on the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee introduced legislation to increase government inspections of food and drug manufacturing plants, reported Reuters. The bill would require food producers and drug makers to pay the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) fees in order to assist with the increased inspections. Other investigations into FDA processes and operations, said Reuters, have found the agency unable to manage the inspections needed to keep America’s food and drug supply adequately protected.
The bill would also require domestic and foreign food facilities to be inspected at least once every four years and drug manufacturing plants every two years. One exception would be if the FDA can justify that more infrequent inspections are needed, said Reuters. The bill would also increase FDA authority that includes its ability to order mandatory recalls, said Reuters.
Speaking out about PCA, Representative Rosa DeLauro (Democrat-Connecticut) told USA Today that PCA’s actions "can only be described as reprehensible and criminal." DeLauro, who oversees FDA funding added, "Not only did this company knowingly sell tainted products, it shopped for a laboratory that would provide the acceptable results they were seeking. This behavior represents the worst of our current food safety regulatory system."
Apparently, said Bloomberg News, after receiving confirmation of the presence of salmonella in its products, PCA hired other laboratories to conduct additional tests, but actually continued to supply its products to customers, Michael Rogers, FDA director of field investigations, confirmed yesterday.
DeLauro and others have asked the Justice Department to review the case and determine if criminal prosecution is called for, reported USA Today, which quoted Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin as saying, "They tried to hide it so they could sell it. Now they've caused a mammoth problem that could destroy their company—and it could destroy the peanut industry." Irvin said he would not name any specific laws which might have been broken by PCA to ensure the firm does not receive any information that could help with the planning of its defense, reported USA Today.
Meanwhile, said USA Today, state lawmakers were writing up a plan that would require food makers to report internal inspection results to state officials, which was something PCA did not have to do under current regulations. Earlier Georgia Department of Agriculture inspection reports found deficiencies in how well PCA was cleaned, said USA Today.
Newsday noted that the congressional committee will begin holding hearings, which will be conducted next month by Representative Henry Waxman (Democrat-California), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, according to the Associated Press.