Most of the news concerning the massive peanut butter recall has focused on the manufacturing facility in Blakely, Georgia where Peanut Corporation of America produced the contaminated peanut butter that sickened so many people. Now Peanut Corporation’s other factory in Plainview, Texas, is in the spotlight because it operated unlicensed and uninspected for nearly four years.
Just how the Texas plant could have operated under the radar for four years raises questions about the effectiveness of government in keeping the nation’s food clean and safe to eat. The Food and Drug Administration relies on the state of Texas, as it does with many other states, to administer federal food safety regulations. The FDA maintains that it does not have enough inspectors to check 65,520 food production facilities nationwide. The agency examined less than 6,000 plants in fiscal 2008, according to a report in The Washington Post.
After investigators traced the salmonella outbreak to Peanut Corporation’s Georgia facility, Texas sent Patrick Moore, an inspector with the Texas Department of State Health Services, to the Plainview, Texas, plant. Texas law requires that food manufacturers renew their licenses every two years and be routinely inspected. The Plainview plant operated since its opening in March 2005 without doing either.
“I was not aware this plant was in operation and did not know (what) type of products processed,” Moore wrote in an inspection report, according to the Associated Press.
The problems with the Texas plant do not necessarily represent any wrongdoings by the parent company, but they do expose a state and federal regulatory system that is extremely inept. The plant is registered with the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts as Plainview Peanut Co., LLC. It was also properly registered with the FDA as a food processing plant. However, neither the state nor the federal government bothered to check on the plant.
In an AP report, Margaret Glavin, former associate commissioner for the FDA’s regulator affairs, said that no regularly updated database exists to assist food inspectors. “The database is terrible,” she said.
Representative Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., oversees the FDA’s funding and acknowledges the agency’s serious shortcomings. She has been working on legislation that would take the “F” out of the FDA by creating a separate national food safety agency. “I think this is one more example of the real breakdown in the process of regulating food safety and making sure public safety is ensured,” DeLauro told the AP.
Since the salmonella outbreak, the Plainview, Texas facility has been inspected by both state and FDA officials. No salmonella has been detected there.