Fallout from bad peanut butter may reach criminal level

By Jennifer Emert - bio | email

January 28 , 2009

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - Senior congressional and state officials are now calling for a federal criminal probe of the Blakely Peanut Corporation of America.

Inspectors found roaches in the plant and mold on ceilings and walls.  The FDA says the peanut paste line was not cleaned after Salmonella was found in September. The plant continued to manufacture the paste until they were shut down January ninth.

In the roasting step the FDA also found the plant did not establish the temperature, volume, or belt speed needed to kill bacteria.

Product was stored within 15 feet of a floor crack that tested positive for another strain of Salmonella and open gaps in the roof near where water leaked into the plant. Investigators also noted the plant was not equipped with a ventilation system to prevent cross-contamination.

The Department of Agriculture says they need more inspectors and lab resources to inspect Georgia's 1,600 food processing facilities.

Governor Sonny Perdue agreed to add $24 million to a bond package for the construction of a Department of Agriculture lab in Tifton. Officials say they need that resource in the area that sees the highest number of tests and inspections.

"We will have the ability to run those tests down there without losing valuable time moving those to Atlanta then testing those here and then reporting back," said Oscar Garrison of the Dept. of Agriculture's Consumer Protection Division.

Product from the plant in Blakely was not tested by the Department of Agriculture last year because the lab was overrun with other samples. If the bond package is passed, the Ag Department hopes to have the new lab up an running by next year.

The recall at the Blakely peanut plant now includes all products containing peanut butter or paste and several varieties of peanuts produced at the plant from January of 2007 through January ninth of this year.

Initially the recalled included products from July 1, 2008 through January and included 400 products. The FDA encourages everyone to check the recall list posted on their website.