Leaky Roof Eyed in Salmonella OutbreakMar 27, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP The historic salmonella outbreak linked to Peanut Corporation of America (PCA), which has sickened and hospitalized hundreds; was linked to nine deaths; prompted thousands of food recall; and resulted in governmental investigations, bankruptcies, and dozens of lawsuits, might all have originated with a leaky roof.
PCA has been cited for horrendous sanitary conditions that include all manner of vermin and associated carcasses and excrement, as well as a leaking roof. The Associated Press (AP) also recently reported that the House Energy and Commerce investigations subcommittee just released information revealing that PCA hired the private inspectors who failed to cite PCA for these disgusting conditions.
Now, it seems that the leaky roof might have been the origin of an outbreak so large that it spanned most of the United States and entered Canada. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) reported that this past August, PCA spent $60,000 on roof repairs, citing a recent bankruptcy testimony hearing.
A former PCA sanitation worker, Anne Bristow, told the AJC that the leak was significant and copious, saying that PCA workers had to move products around to keep them from becoming wet. “I don’t mean a leak here and a leak there,” she said. “I mean it rained in there.”
Salmonella bacteria need moisture to survive, and bird and rodent excrement are known salmonella sources. Some experts believe that rain and a leaky roof provided the perfect combination for water to either allow salmonella in the plant to flourish or to bring salmonella into the plant, or both, reported the AJC.
Consumer Union’s Michael Hansen, a senior scientist with the advocacy group said, regarding the leaky roof, “That is a likely culprit for the problem,” explaining that rain could have enabled salmonella-tainted bird excrement to enter the plant from the roof, contaminating food products and machinery, said the AJC. Michael Doyle, director of the University of Georgia’s Center for Food Safety, said, “Allowing water to get into a dry [processing] environment would be like putting gas on a fire,” quoted the AJC.
Despite repairs, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) documented water stains and streaks and a large gap—two-feet by a half-inch—in the roof this January, said the AJC. Also, it said, the Blakely plant documented roof problems as far back as early 2007. At that time, said the AJC, a state inspection indicated a roof leak over a cooler. “Anytime you’ve got rain from a flat surface that collects contaminants—anytime that falls on food product—you’ve got risk,” said Oscar Garrison, the assistant commissioner, reported AJC. Officials are looking at other sources, including peanut shellers and peanut farmers, which operate outside of PCA locations, said the AJC.
Of note, a similar problem might have been to blame for another large outbreak involving a ConAgra peanut butter plant linked to 400 illnesses in 2006-2007, said AJC, pointing to a faulty sprinkler or leaky roof following a 2006 rainstorm, or both, according to ConAgra. The firm explained that water problems likely triggered “dormant levels of salmonella.” The ConAgra outbreak took place two years ago and critics argue that PCA should have learned from the well-publicized incident.