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Salmonella Outbreak Continues

Mar 18, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP The continuing and massive salmonella outbreak linked to Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) peanut products is very close to reaching 700 reported illnesses.  The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) News just reported that the number of those reporting illness has reached 691; the recalled product list has reached a monumental 3,488 items.  According to federal health officials, cases are expected to continue to be reported for months.

"The numbers of new cases have declined substantially since the peak in December, but illnesses are still being reported among people who ate the recalled brands of peanut butter crackers after the recall," the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said, reported CIDRAP, noting that the CDC also said the update was its last planned such update on the outbreak.  "The outbreak is expected to continue at a low level for the next several months since consumers unaware that they have recalled products in their home continue to consume these products, many of which have a long shelf-life," the CDC added, said CIDRAP.

To date, there have been PCA-linked salmonella cases reported in 46 states and Canada, nine known deaths, and hospitalizations in 23 percent of those who fell ill and for whom information is available, said CIDRAP, adding that the latest known onset date was February 24, indicating that salmonella-contaminated PCA ingredients still remain in circulation.  CIDRAP pointed out that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and state agencies have contacted in excess of 16,000 firms to try and remove potential contaminated products from store shelves.

Half of those infected are under age 16, while more than one in four cases is under age five.  Most reported illnesses have been linked to two brands of peanut butter crackers — Kellogg’s Austin and Keebler-brand peanut butter crackers.  Products that carry a salmonella risk continue to be recalled on a daily basis; the FDA is maintaining a full list of recalled products.

There is also more evidence emerging that oversight of the PCA Georgia plant at the center of the outbreak had been lax, at best. According to a prior report in the Atlanta Constitution Journal, PCA’s Blakely, Georgia facility was inspected by the state health department on 184 occasions since 2006; however, 114 of those inspections lasted less than two hours.  Not surprisingly, none of these inspections found evidence of mold, cockroaches, and salmonella contamination that was uncovered by the FDA when it investigated the plant in January.

As we’ve previously reported, a second PCA plant in Texas closed last month because of deplorable conditions and was found to never have been properly licensed. Yet, a state inspector who visited the plant on three occasions since 2005 had actually indicated in his reports that the facility was licensed correctly.  Meanwhile, PCA faces dozens of lawsuits, a criminal investigation, bankruptcy filings, FBI search warrants, plant closures, and Congressionally-urged criminal charges.  PCA filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy early last month, all of its plants are closed, and the Texas Department of Health has issued a recall order for everything ever produced at the Texas plant.

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