Peanut Butter Could be Labeled High RiskFeb 13, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP Amid the historic and continuing salmonella outbreak that is linked to one Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) plant in Georgia, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is considering stronger regulations for peanut butter. The Associated Press (AP) reported that the outbreak might change how some bacterial testing is conducted.
According to the AP, the FDA said Peanut butter is being looked at very specifically and might be designated a high-risk food. If so designated, peanut butter producers will be required to follow specific food safety plans to ensure products are not tainted, explained the AP; the precautions exist for juice and seafood. When the FDA’s head of Food Safety, Dr. Stephen Sundlof was asked if he felt the same precautions should be implemented for peanut butter, he said, “I believe so,” quoted the AP.
Dr. Sundlof told the House Energy and Commerce investigations subcommittee this week that, moving forward, FDA inspectors will routinely collect samples for bacterial testing whenever they inspect a facility, instead of only collecting such samples if a problem is suspected, said the AP. "We are changing that now as a result of this (outbreak)," Sundlof told the subcommittee, which is working on processes to avoid a similar outbreak, reported the AP.
The peanut salmonella outbreak has sickened over 600 people; been linked to the deaths of nine; affected American and Canadian consumers in 43 states and Canada; and resulted in a growing list of recalls, which just topped 1,900.
Consumer advocates argue that the enhanced safety plans should be in place for all, not some, said the AP. Such plans, as far as peanuts are concerned, involve properly roasting peanuts to ensure salmonella pathogens are killed off, ensuring finished and raw products are kept separate, and maintaining production in, say, a factory that does not have a leaky roof, since the deadly pathogen flourishes in moist environments, explained the AP. One of the PCA plants is known to have been filthy, mold- and cockroach-riddled, and producing food under a leaking roof.
Meanwhile, Steward Parnell, PCA owner, refused to answer House questions, continually invoking his Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate himself, until he was finally excused, said the AP. Parnell, who sat at a witness table in a room full of angry investigators and government officials and the devastated family members of some of the deceased is accused of placing profits over safety and of ordering his staff to ship products which should have been discarded based on initial confirmations of salmonella contamination. This not once, but at least one dozen times in just two years.
The Christian Science Monitor reported that Georgia officials are weighing whether or not to charge Parnell with manslaughter if federal authorities chose not to do so, noting that, for the most part, law-enforcement officers tend not to supersede food-safety regulators in bringing criminal charges against food suppliers or processors. Generally, when there have been such cases, they are tried in civil courts, said the Monitor
“Part of the system is the ability to penalize the people that fail,” Michael Taylor, a former policy commissioner with the FDA said adding, “And there’s been a real failure to do so at the federal and state level,” quoted the Monitor.