Private Food Inspections Faulted in Peanut Corp. Salmonella DebacleMar 20, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP As the food industry continues to grapple with the fallout from the historic peanut salmonella outbreak that has sickened and hospitalized hundreds, was linked to the deaths of nine, resulted in thousands of food recalls, and spurred governmental investigations and dozens of lawsuits, the Associated Press (AP) is reporting that the industry’s private inspection system was, in part, to blame.
The Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) was responsible for the salmonella outbreak that spanned most of the United States and at least one Canadian province. The House Energy and Commerce investigations subcommittee just released information revealing that PCA hired the private inspectors who failed to cite the company's facilities for a wide variety of ongoing and horrendous sanitary problems, said the AP. "There is an obvious and inherent conflict of interest when an auditor works for the same supplier it is evaluating," said Representative Bart Stupak (Democrat-Michigan), chairman of the subcommittee, calling it, said the AP, a "cozy relationship."
The Wall Street Journal said the inspection was conducted by AIB International Inc., a PCA-hired firm, noting that last December, AIB provided the Blakely, Georgia PCA plant manager advance email notice of the inspection, which garnered a “superior” rating. It was at this plant that federal investigators found mold and dead rodents, said the Journal. It was also at this plant that salmonella was first discovered, said the AP. The AP also explained that federal law does not mandate food companies pay for supplier inspections; labs and inspectors are also not mandated to advise the government of problems that are discovered in such inspections.
And, although AIB certified the plant as superior, Nestle USA, said the AP, conducted its own inspection and concluded, quoted Representative Henry Waxman (Democrat-California) that "They found that the place was filthy." A follow-up audit found significant problems, including pest control issues such as an astounding 50 rodent and one pigeon carcass, said the AP, which added that the audit noted that the plant did not have the required pathogen-monitoring plan. The Journal noted that the follow-up audit also found rodent droppings, dead flour beetles, and other insects.
Nestle said it would not use the plant for peanut products needed for its drumstick ice cream cones, said the AP, but other companies claimed they could not know that PCA was covering up a hideous mess of pathogens, feces, and carcasses. Kellogg Co. chief executive David Mackay told the committee, "I think we did everything we could, quoted the Journal. “The issue was that (Peanut Corp.) acted in a dishonest and unethical way," quoted the AP. Waxman disagreed, "I think Kellogg is sloppy … I think this resulted in a tragedy that could have been prevented," reported the Journal.
But officials and the current administration disagree, saying that the problem is much bigger than one company, reported the AP, which said that legislation has been introduced in Congress to give food safety responsibilities to a new agency that will also be provided with increased funding and legal options, effectively taking responsibility away from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and agency that has long been criticized for negligence, corruption, and a failure to protect consumers.