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Peanut Corp. of America Caught in a Lie

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Peanut Corp. of America (PCA), the company behind a massive salmonella outbreak, has been caught in a lie.  Apparently, some batches of peanuts shipped from its Blakely, Georgia plant in 2007 and 2008 that had tested positive for salmonella contamination were not subjected to more testing before they were distributed, as PCA had previously asserted.

So far, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has confirmed 575 cases of salmonella poisoning in 43 states linked to tainted PCA products.  The outbreak may have contributed to eight deaths, the agency said. PCA, which provides ingredients to 85 other food firms, has recalled everything made at its Georgia plant since January 2007. Hundreds of  products made by other firms, including the Kellogg Company and General Mills, have also been recalled.

PCA even sold potentially tainted peanut butter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency that was used in emergency food kits distributed in Kentucky following last month’s disastrous ice storm.  And last week, the US Department of Agriculture said that PCA had supplied peanut butter to the federal program that provides free school lunches to thousands of poor children.

The recalls are so widespread that the FDA has even set up a new online  database to help consumers track them.  The agency said it expects the recalls to continue, and has cautioned consumers to avoid foods made with peanut butter or paste unless they are sure the ingredients did not come from PCA.

Last month, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) reported that its 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.  PCA has insisted that those peanuts tested negative for the bacteria in a second round of testing.  But according to the LA Times, the FDA  reported on Friday that PCA had lied about the second batch of tests.  According to the FDA,  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.

Those same FDA inspections of the PCA Georgia plant have also turned up mold, roaches and a leaking roof. The company also didn’t clean its equipment there after finding contamination, and didn’t properly separate raw and finished products, the FDA said.  All of this has prompted lawmakers in Congress to call for an overhaul of the food safety system in the U.S.  The U.S. Justice Department has even opened a criminal probe into PCA’s conduct.

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