Salmonella Found at Peanut Plant Before


The Georgia food plant that federal investigators say knowingly shipped contaminated peanut butter also had mold growing on its ceiling and walls, and it has foot-long gaps in its roof, according to results of a federal inspection.

More than 500 people in 43 states have been sickened, and eight have died, after eating crackers and other products made with peanut butter from the plant, which is owned by the Peanut Corporation of America. More than 100 children under the age of 5 are among those who have been sickened.

The plant sells its peanut paste to some of the nation’s largest food manufacturers, including Kellogg and McKee Foods. As a result of the contamination, more than 100 products have been recalled, mostly cookies and crackers.

Officials from the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention traced the outbreak to the Peanut Corporation of America plant in Blakely, Ga. On Jan. 9, investigators descended on the plant for a thorough inspection, which was completed Tuesday.

The report from the inspection, first posted on the Internet by Bill Marler, a lawyer, cites 12 instances in 2007 and 2008 in which the company’s own tests of its product found contamination by salmonella.

In each case, the report states, “after the firm retested the product and received a negative status, the product was shipped in interstate commerce.”

It is illegal for a company to continue testing a product until it gets a clean test, said Michael Taylor, a food safety expert at George Washington University.

In a press conference Tuesday, Michael Rogers, director of the division of field investigations at the F.D.A., said that the company’s tests showing salmonella contamination should have led the company to take actions to eliminate the contamination. “It’s significant, because at the point at which salmonella was identified, it shouldn’t be there, based on the manufacturing process that’s designed to mitigate salmonella, actually eliminate it,” Mr. Rogers said.

The firm took no steps to clean its plant after the test results alerted the company to the contamination, he said, and the inspection team found problems with the plant’s routine cleaning procedures as well.

The plant also stored pallets of peanut butter next to supplies of peanuts, the inspectional report says. Finished products should be stored far from raw materials to reduce the chances of re-contamination of the finished goods, according to federal rules.

The report describes a plant that was not constructed to produce safe food. “There were open gaps observed” near air-conditioner intakes that were as large as a half-inch by two and one-half feet long, the report stated. Previous inspections of the plant by the Georgia State Agriculture Department found dirty surfaces, grease residue and dirt buildup throughout the plant. They also found rust residue that could flake into food, gaps in warehouse doors large enough for rodents to enter, and numerous other problems.

A spokesman for the Peanut Corporation did not immediately return a phone message.