We reported earlier that the Peanut Corporation of America’s Blakely, Georgia plant knowingly shipped out a dozen batches of peanut products that had tested positive for salmonella. As the federal government’s investigation continues, the likelihood that company mangers will face criminal charges appears to grow.
Company records examined by the Food and Drug Administration indicate that the Peanut Corporation had the contaminated products retested by external labs after in-house lab tests found salmonella bacteria.
The most recent re-test of contaminated peanut butter was ordered in September. Health officials began detecting signs of a salmonella outbreak in October.
According to the AP, “Michael Rogers, a senior FDA investigator, said it’s possible for salmonella to hide in small pockets of a large batch of peanut butter. That means the same batch can yield both positive and negative results,” he said. “The products should have been discarded after they first tested positive.”
The Peanut Corporation issued a statement saying that it “categorically denies any allegations that the company sought favorable results from any lab in order to ship its products.”
“We have been devastated by this, and we have been working around the clock with the FDA to ensure any potentially unsafe products are removed from the market immediately,” Stewart Parnell, the company’s president, said.
Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who oversees the FDA’s funding, issued a statement in which she is clearly outraged by the Peanut Corp.’s actions.
“The actions by the Peanut Corporation of America can only be described as reprehensible and criminal. Not only did this company knowingly sell tainted products, it shopped for a laboratory that would provide the acceptable results they were seeking. This behavior represents the worst of our current food safety regulatory system,” she said.
“I will be contacting the Department of Justice to request an investigation into the behavior by the Peanut Corporation of America to determine whether their actions warrant criminal prosecution,” DeLauro said.
“We must pursue a zero-tolerance policy when dealing with businesses that intentionally sell tainted products.”
Georgia’s top agricultural official, Tommy Irvin, echoed DeLauro’s call for a Justice Department investigation.
“They tried to hide it so they could sell it,” Irvin said. “Now they’ve caused a mammoth problem that could destroy their company — and it could destroy the peanut industry.”