Peanut experts focus on food safety during annual Ga Peanut Tour - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Peanut experts focus on food safety during annual Ga Peanut Tour

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ALBANY, GA (WALB) -

It was just a few years ago, the peanut industry took a blow after being linked to a massive salmonella outbreak.

That outbreak left several dead and hundreds sick.  

Peanut industry experts talked to manufacturers handling the peanuts to ensure food safety during the 31st Annual Georgia Peanut Tour that kicked off Tuesday afternoon.

There are a handful of risks related to eating peanuts ranging from allergies, toxins, and Salmonella. 

Once peanuts are in the ground, experts explained farmers need to use the latest spray programs to protect their crops from diseases and toxins.

But they don't have control over the food scares that pop up.

"It's not at the farmer level. That's not an issue. It's mostly at the manufacturer level that needs to address this problem," explained UGA Professor, Dr. Francisco Diez.

Dr. Diez recently started researching solutions on how manufactures process peanuts.

In 2009, a national salmonella outbreak sickened more than 700 people that was later traced back to a peanut roasting plant in South Georgia

"That was a case that actually broke the camel's back to the government changing the food law," Dr. Diez said to the crowd. 

Diez also highlighted new regulations stemming from the Food Safety Modernization Act.

He said it's very rare that Salmonella is found in peanuts.

"Unfortunately a few bad cases have given a lot of concern to the entire industry," Dr. Diez remarked.  

But the ultimate goal of the tour was to show manufacturers all of the steps that go into peanut production.

"That we are doing everything we can to get them a good safe quality product," UGA Soil Scientist, Glen Harris explained. 

But manufacturers also have to do their part to protect consumers' jars of peanut butter.

"At all levels, we should be concerned about how the food should be safer possible," said Dr. Diez. 

Industry leaders will get a first-hand look at the peanut production process during the main tour on Wednesday. 

They'll be making a special stop at Jimmy Carter's childhood home in Plains, where the former President will speak to the group.

Meanwhile Georgia peanut industry officials continue to estimate this year's crop will be a record-breaker.

Peanut experts said Georgia farmers planted one of the largest crops this year, coming in at an estimated 828,000 acres.

Initially, farmers had a bumpy start dealing with drought and too much rain.

But mid-season, around June, the crop dramatically improved and the yields statewide could be one of the best quality crops ever.

"Are we going to make a record as far as the state yields go? We don't know that yet. We're still early in the harvest season but right now we look very good to have an above average crop and an above average quality crop," explained UGA Peanut Agronomist, Dr. Scott Monfort. 

If the crop doesn't get enough rain or too much of it, it could pose a risk to the harvest.

And growers still have to manage diseases and insects by using the latest spray programs.

But if all goes well, peanut experts predict the state yield could be a whopping 4,600 pounds per acre. 

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