Blakely plant knew their product raised salmonella flags - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Blakely plant knew their product raised salmonella flags

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By Jennifer Emert - bio | email

January 27, 2009

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - The Federal Food and Drug Administration says the Peanut Corporation of America knew products at their Blakely plant tested positive for salmonella, but shipped them anyway, after follow up tests were negative.

That plant is at the center of a nationwide salmonella outbreak that grew Tuesday with the announcement of two more deaths.

The recall is expanding, too, with more than 390 products now being pulled from shelves. The information is shocking, after forcing company officials to turn over the information, FDA officials learned that testing by the Blakely plant in at least 12 instances revealed Salmonella in their product but FDA officials say that product was sent out anyway.

"The team identified 12 instances in 2007 and 2008 where the firm as part of their own internal testing program identified some type of Salmonella and released a product after it was retested in some cases by another laboratory," said Michael Rogers, FDA, Director of Field Investigations.

Late Tuesday afternoon investigators also revealed there were as many as four different strains of Salmonella that turned up in the investigation although they believe it was the one strain found in the two un-open containers from the plant that's made everyone sick. The number of cases over the last two weeks has decreased significantly.

"The number of cases being reported is going down and Salmonella is a regular disease we see commonly just every now and then because of food borne outbreaks," said Dr. Craig Smith, Infectious Disease Specialist.

While the investigation at the plant has concluded the FDA will continue to look into whether Peanut Corporation of America broke the law by sending out an unsafe product.

"Companies are supposed to be producing foods in accordance with good manufacturing practice standards those are regulations they have the force of law whether or not there was any criminal activity involved is a different issue," said Rogers.

The FDA says more information will be released Wednesday when they make their report on the matter public. They say they'll also look into the practice of contracting out inspections to agencies like the Georgia Department of Agriculture who's been conducting routine inspections at the plant for several years.

The relatives of a 72-year-old woman whose death may be linked to the salmonella outbreak sued the operators of the Blakely plant. The Blakely plant ceased operations January ninth and has recalled all peanut butter and paste produced at the plant since July first.

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