Personal Injury

Peanut Corp. halts its Texas operations as FBI joins investigation

has shut its Plainview, Texas, plant as federal and state officials continue their investigations into the questionable practices that caused a national salmonella outbreak, spurred one of the country’s largest food recalls in history, killed 8 people, and sickened hundreds more. The Peanut Corp. voluntarily shut down its Texas operations after lab tests indicated the presence of salmonella bacteria in some sample products, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The Texas plant, operated as Plainview Peanut Company, LLC, produces peanut meal, granulated peanuts, and dry roasted peanuts. None of the possibly contaminated products appear to have reached consumers.

Investigators from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have been conducting a criminal probe of the company. On Tuesday, Reuters reported that the FBI has joined the investigation in a support capacity, providing its resources in assistance to the FDA. Dee Rybiski, a spokeswoman for the FBI field offices in Richmond, Virginia, told Reuters that “there were simultaneous searches of the different locations,” including, she confirmed, Peanut Corp.’s headquarters in Lynchburg, Virginia.

In mid-February of 2007, the FDA announced a recall of certain batches of Peter Pan peanut butter because of reported salmonella poisoning. Other salmonella outbreaks have occurred since, sparking massive recalls of spinach, tomatoes, lettuce, and peppers and rattling consumer confidence in the safety of the nation’s food supply.

The salmonella outbreaks have re-energized efforts to reform the FDA, which the Government Accountability Office considers to be afflicted with inconsistent oversight, ineffective coordination, and inefficient in its use of resources. Consumer groups, certain members of Congress, and the Obama administration have all echoed calls to reform the FDA.

The latest salmonella outbreak is also proving to be a disaster for peanut processors whose products aren’t included in the recall but are affected by it, and for the peanut industry in general. Sales of safe peanut butter have been dropped 25% since the salmonella outbreak.

“These things kind of spook consumers,” said Bob Goldin of Technomic Inc, a Chicago-based food industry consulting firm, to Reuters.

The total damage caused by one company cutting corners and trying to save a few bucks may be impossible to quantify in the end.