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Peanut Butter Salmonella Poisoning
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Peanut Corp. Texas Plant Linked to Salmonella Cases in Colorado

Feb 16, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP Six cases of  salmonella poisoning have been linked to a Peanut Corp. of America (PCA) plant in Texas that was shut down last week.  The Plainview facility is the second PCA plant to be implicated in a nationwide salmonella outbreak that has killed 9 people and sickened more than 600.

The six salmonella victims are all from Colorado.  According to the Colorado Health Department, they range in age from ages 2 through 60.  One had to hospitalized.  Their illnesses traced to peanut butter sold by Vitamin Cottage stores that had been made with PCA peanuts, the health department said.

Vitamin Cottage is one of the many companies that has recalled products made with PCA ingredients in recent weeks.  Those recalls now exceed 2000, and the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has had to establish a searchable database to help consumers track the recalls.

The PCA Plainview plant was closed last week after possible salmonella contamination was found there.  A few days later, all products made at the Plainview facility were recalled after Texas Health Department inspectors discovered appalling conditions there.  Those conditions included dead rodents, rodent excrement and bird feathers in a crawl space above a production area.  According to the Associated Press, the plant’s air handling system was pulling debris from the infested crawl space into production areas.   Despite having been in operation since 2005, the Plainview facility was unlicensed, and had never been inspected before the salmonella outbreak.

The Plainview facility was the second PCA plant to be implicated in the salmonella outbreak.  Last month, the company's factory in Blakely, Georgia was closed after salmonella-tainted foods were discovered there.  Recent  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. Those same inspections of the Blakely plant also turned up mold, roaches and a leaking roof.

PCA officials told the FDA  that the suspect  peanuts tested negative for the bacteria in a second round of testing.  But  the FDA later found 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.

PCA is now the subject of a criminal probe.  Last week, , the  FBI executed search warrants at the PCA Georgia plant and at its headquarters in Virginia.  PCA owner Stewart Parnell had also been subpoenaed to testify at a  Congressional hearing last week week, and although he appeared, he invoked his constitutional right not to incriminate himself.

Late Friday, PCA filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.  A statement from PCA's attorney blamed the fallout from the salmonella scandal for the filing.

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