PCA Salmonella Outbreak Could Lead to Food Safety ReformFeb 24, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP This year's deadly peanut salmonella outbreak has prompted two Illinois law makers to propose changes to U.S. food safety law. According to cbs2chicago, US Reps. Mark Kirk and Peter Roskam, both Republicans, want food manufacturers to give the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) access to any questionable food testing results.
This year, a salmonella outbreak linked to peanut butter and other products made by Peanut Corp. of America (PCA) has sickened 654 people in 44 states, and has killed at least nine. Salmonella was found at two plants in Georgia and Texas, leading to the plants' closures and recalls of ingredients made at those facilities. PCA once supplied peanut ingredients to 85 other firms, and as a result, the number of recalls of foods made with PCA ingredients has exceeded 2500.
Last month, inspections of the Georgia plant found that PCA shipped peanuts that tested positive for salmonella contamination at least a dozen times in 2007 and 2008. At the time of that discovery, PCA officials told the FDA that those peanuts tested negative for the bacteria in a second round of testing. But the FDA eventually discovered that PCA actually shipped some of the peanuts before the second tests were completed. Other lots were shipped without testing and, in some cases, no second test was performed even after the first one came back positive.
At a hearing into the outbreak before the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, emails revealed that PCA owner Stewart Parnell repeatedly told employees to ship tainted products. At the same hearing, one official from a company hired by PCA to test products said the firm's contract was terminated after its test found salmonella at the PCA Georgia facility on several occasions. The FDA never knew about these incidents.
Both Reps. Kirk and Roskam told cbs2chicago that the PCA debacle shows a need to reform US food safety laws. They are promoting a law that would give the FDA access to food test results. "And if there's adverse information that comes about, that information has to be disclosed," Roskam told cbs2chicago. "In other words, you can't shop around for a favorable result."
The law would also give the FDA authority to order food recalls. Right now, companies like PCA only have to voluntarily issue recalls. As we reported yesterday, health officials in Texas had to issue their own recall of products from the PCA Texas plant after the company was slow to do so.
According to cbs2chicago, Roskam introduced similar legislation last year, but it never came up for a vote. Both Roskam and Kirk told the TV station that they hope the furor over the PCA salmonella outbreak leads to passage this year.