Representative Henry Waxman, D-Cal. and Representative Bart Stupak, D-MI announced on Thursday that congress will hold the first public hearing on the salmonella outbreak that has been traced to Peanut Corporation of America’s peanut butter products.
Last week we reported how Peanut Corp. found some of their peanut butter to be tainted with salmonella but sold and shipped the products anyway. After the products tested positive for salmonella in internal tests, the company had the products retested by external labs, who reported negative readings.
The re-tests outraged some members of congress, who accused Peanut Corp. of shopping around for negative readings. Others say retesting was inappropriate because the nature of peanut butter makes it possible for salmonella to be present in pockets rather than spread throughout, so that samples taken from a contaminated batch could easily come out negative.
“The situation at the plant is alarming,” said Rep. Waxman. “It shows major gaps in our food safety system. I am extremely troubled by reports that the plant tested positive for salmonella numerous times but nothing was done to ensure that the product did not go on the market.”
Rep. Waxman, who serves as Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said that the hearings should focus on Peanut Corp.’s Blakely, Georgia, facility, which is where the tainted peanut butter originated. According to the FDA, more than 500 people are reported to have been sickened and at least 8 people have died because of the salmonella outbreak.
The president of Peanut Corporation of America, Stewart Parnell, will be among those called to testify at the hearings. Representatives from two labs used by the Peanut Corp. for testing will also be present. Dr. Frank Torti, Acting Commissioner of the FDA, and Thomas Irvin, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Agriculture will testify as well.
Rep. Stupak, who chairs the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, believes the FDA may also be at fault for the outbreak. “There are still far too many questions surrounding FDA’s role in allowing the Peanut Corporation of America to distribute contaminated products,” Rep. Stupak said. “We have already requested a number of documents from the company and I hope this hearing will help bring to light not only what went wrong but also what FDA and industry can do to prevent future outbreaks.”
The first hearing will be held on Wednesday, February 11 at 10:00 a.m. ET.