Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Should We Build Our Own Peanut Processing Facility?

Good grief! You just cannot make this stuff up! Can any food processed in a factory environment be trusted any more? Check out the following story from today's NYT.

ATLANTA (AP) -- Private lab tests show there may have been salmonella at a second plant operated by the peanut company at the center of a national outbreak, but the potentially tainted products were not sent to consumers, Texas health officials said Tuesday.

The Peanut Corp. of America temporarily closed its plant in Plainview, Texas, Monday night at the request of health officials after the tests found ''the possible presence of salmonella'' in some of its products, the Texas Department of Health said in a statement.

The Texas plant produces peanut meal, granulated peanuts and dry roasted peanuts. Texas state health officials said that possibly contaminated peanut meal and granulated peanuts had not been sent to customers. Potentially contaminated dry roasted peanuts were shipped to a distributor, but were caught before reaching the public, state officials said.

The company is being investigated in connection with an outbreak that has sickened 600 people and may have caused at least eight deaths. More than 1,840 possibly contaminated consumer products have been recalled.

Peanut Corp. closed its plant in Blakely, Ga., last month after federal investigators identified that facility as the source of the salmonella outbreak. Company spokeswoman Amy Rotenberg did not immediately return a call seeking comment Tuesday.

The Texas closing came a day after the FBI raided the company's plant in Georgia, hauling off boxes and other material. Agents executed search warrants at both the plant and at Peanut Corp.'s headquarters in Lynchburg, Va., according to a senior congressional aide with knowledge of the raids. The official spoke only on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

During their investigation at the Georgia plant, Food and Drug Administration inspectors found roaches, mold, a leaking roof and other sanitation problems. They also found two strains of salmonella. Though different from the outbreak strain, the discovery of the bacteria at the plant signalled a hole in food safety.

The FDA said last week the company knowingly shipped salmonella-laced products from the Georgia plant after tests showed the products were contaminated. Federal law forbids producing or shipping foods under conditions that could make it harmful to consumers' health.

FDA spokeswoman Susan Cruzan said the agency is still investigating the Plainview facility. It was not immediately known if the discovery would lead to broader product recalls. Cruzan said the FDA is searching records to see where products from the Plainview plant may have been distributed.

''The FDA has collected its own samples and is awaiting lab results,'' Cruzan said. Initially, agency officials had indicated that the salmonella problems seemed to be limited to Peanut Corp.'s Georgia plant.

An Associated Press investigation last week revealed that the Texas plant, which opened in March 2005 and was run by a subsidiary, Plainview Peanut Co., operated uninspected and unlicensed by state health officials until after the company came under investigation last month by the Food and Drug Administration.

Doug McBride, spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services, said Peanut Corp. agreed to shut the plant voluntarily as it works with the state agency.

Plainview Mayor John Anderson said Tuesday the Texas plant employed about 30 people. It was not immediately clear how they would be affected by the suspension.

''I'm just very sorry to hear that,'' Plainview Mayor John Anderson said Tuesday when a reporter called with news of the suspension. ''Hopefully it's just a temporary suspension. That'd be the best of all worlds.''

The company, which also operates a small plant under the name Tidewater Blanching in Suffolk, Va., sold its peanut butter to institutional clients, such as nursing homes, and its peanut paste to many other companies that used it as an ingredient in products ranging from cookies and ice cream to energy bars and pet treats. While the company initially said its products weren't sold directly to consumers, it said Sunday that some were sold directly to discount retailers.

Food safety attorney Bill Marler, one of several attorneys who have filed civil lawsuits against the company since the outbreak started, said it was the latest disturbing turn for Peanut Corp.

''It is clear that PCA is not a producer that companies could -- or can -- rely on for a safe product,'' he said.


Rhonda Trautman said...

Of all the sustainable food economy issues, I believe food safety is the most important consideration. This is yet another example of corporate processes run amuck and the public having no way to see inside the process until something like this occurs. This is not to say there are probably a lot of great peanut butter manufacturers, but it sure makes one think about it a bit more when purchasing items at the grocery.

Where did this come from? Who made it? Is it safe?....Hard to know in most cases.

John's Custom Meats said...

I have been trying to get the point across that it is, in fact, the FDA that has serious problems...and not necessarily the USDA. This story is not at all surprising to me. From the "inside", there are certain things that we are aware of. I have attached information regarding FDA procedures. These are pulled directly from an email correspondence to our business from the FDA. This was sent from the National FDA. I believe you will find it alarming.

Begin quote"

• FDA does not require manufacturers/importers to test food in advance of sale.

• The Federal Food, Drug &Cosmetics (FD&C) Act places the burden of safety and labeling on the food manufacturer, and does not confer to FDA any review or approval authority. FDA does not certify, register, or approve food, their labels, manufacturing facilities or individuals that operate them, regardless of geographical location.

• It is the responsibility of each person marketing food products to comply with all of the requirements of the Act and FDA manufacturing and labeling regulations.

• You do not have to send anything to the agency; FDA does not offer approval documents of any kind.

• If a product hurts consumers, or is adulterated or misbranded, FDA is empowered to take steps to remove the food from commerce, require appropriate labeling or take action against the party responsible for manufacturing and/or introducing the item in commerce.

• FDA is legally empowered and may detain and sample food products at the entry port. FDA does not "clear" food shipments in advance irrespective of their origin.

• FDA does not require "best if used by" or expiration dates on the label of food products.

• FDA does not approve private laboratories that analyze food; we do not have a list of such labs.
Over the years, I've learned that knowing these points saves prospective entrepreneurs precious time —no need to ask for something that the agency cannot legally deliver.

Good Manufacturing Practices:

FDA is authorized under statute to regulate food products in interstate commerce. The basic sanitation requirements for food facilities under FDA's authority publish as Good Manufacturing Practices for Food (GMP). The cGMP regulations for foods describe, in part, the methods, equipment, facilities, and controls for processed food. In addition, these regulations set forth basic requirements for the manufacturers and distributors of food products which, when implemented, assist to ensure food remains clean and safe during manufacturing, packing and holding. FDA's Good Manufacturing Practices regulations for food publish in Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), specifically Part 110 "Current Good Manufacturing Practices for Food". Were FDA to inspect such a facility, it would use the GMP's as blueprint.

Food Code
While not a federal requirement, FDA's Model Food Code also covers sanitation and safety standards. The Food Code is a set of recommendations, or model regulations, for food safety and sanitation practices in restaurants, cafeterias, in-store salad bars, and such venue settings. They are not federal regulations. The FDA delegates codifying and enforcement of those activities to states/counties that are responsible for overseeing such establishments.

I hope that this brief explanation helps. However, if after you read this you still have specific questions; please send us a follow up e-mail. I wish you well with your enterprise and thank you for contacting the FDA.

end quote"

In turn, USDA is under our noses daily, watching, listening, testing….. We are required to perform testing through an approved lab. We are required to hold those records and show them to our inspectors in charge. We are required to keep daily records regarding what we have processed, record daily temperatures, record daily sanitation records, and many many more record keeping requirements. The USDA gets a bad rap from recalls due to their large nature. These recalls are large in nature due to the “plant in question”’s record keeping. If the plant is poor with their lot nos. and/or records, everything they have produced WILL be part of the recall whether or not it is actually adulterated or not. This is a reprimand to the company.

I worry seriously about society pushing the two entities to become one. FDA is out of control and

I fear the meat industry will quickly spiral out of control in the case of the two being combined.

Just some food for thought.

Rizaus said...

People were pressuring Obama to fire all the FDA and replace them, since reports were everywhere about deep corruption. As for that peanut plant it hadn't been inspected by FDA since 2001 when they found the products were exposed to insecticides.

The whole mercury in high fructose corn syrup thing is a little messed up as well.