FDA, GBI to probe peanut plant

By Jennifer Emert - bio | email

February  3, 2009

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - The Georgia Bureau of Investigation will meet with investigators from the Food and Drug Administration to discuss the ongoing Salmonella investigation linked to the Blakely Peanut Corporation of America plant.

Today the number of confirmed cases of people sickened by the Salmonella outbreak climbed to 550. The GBI's director Vernon Keenan has assigned the Sylvester GBI office with a two-step review to determine if the Blakely plant broke Georgia law and decide whether it's the state or federal government who has jurisdiction.

A two week inspection by the Food and Drug Administration at the Peanut Corporation of America plant in Blakely came away with 10 observations and test results that showed at least 12 times product that tested positive for Salmonella, was retested, cleared, and sent out.

Now lawyers for Peanut Corporation of America are preparing to turn over computer records and company files from Virginia to the FDA.

Both the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and FDA will meet Wednesday to discuss the case. "Then we will make an assessment of what has occurred. As the investigation continues there are federal and state regulations to consider," said GBI Director Vernon Keenan.

"You have Food and Drug Administration regulations, there are Department of Agriculture regulations, there are Georgia Department of Agriculture regulations, and then you have the Georgia Food Act which does impose some criminal penalty," said Attorney Ralph Scoccimaro.

Friday the FDA announced that it's investigative division would conduct a criminal investigation against Peanut Corporation of America with the justice department. No criminal charges have been brought at this time.

An Albany attorney, not involved in this case, says proving criminal charges can be difficult.  "It is a much more difficult proposition than in the civil arena because one has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the individual has violated the statute in question. The burden is just that much greater," said Scoccimaro.

"It's going to boil down to who knew what, when," said Keenan.

Attorneys say investigators can't rush to justice, their investigation must be very slow and deliberate so mistakes won't be made. In the last two days 23 companies have submitted new recalls associated with the voluntary recall of peanut products, peanut butter, and paste from the Peanut Corporation of America.