The food we eatSalmonella contamination found at Texas peanut plant

Published 26 February 2009

Salmonella found in ground peanuts in a Plainview, Texas plant which received peanuts from the now-bankrupt Georgia peanut processing company; contaminated products from the Plainview company were found in Colorado

Tests show ground peanuts at a Texas plant were contaminated with the same strain of salmonella that has sickened hundreds of people across the nation, state health officials said Wednesday The peanut meal was tested at the Plainview plant 12 February after the facility had voluntarily shut down, said Doug McBride, a spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services. Previously, private tests conducted by Virginia-based Peanut Corp. of America, which operated the plant, had tentatively indicated that there may have been salmonella at the plant. It is not yet known what strain those preliminary private tests showed, he said.

The Texas plant is the second facility operated by the embattled Peanut Corp. to test positive for salmonella. A different strain was found at the company’s Blakely, Georgia, plant. Peanut Corp. did ship products between the two plants, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) spokeswoman Stephanie Kwisnek said Wednesday. The company shipped mostly “seasoned” products, such as honey roasted peanuts and hot and spicy peanuts, from its Georgia plant to its Texas plant and shipped peanut meal from the Texas plant to the Georgia plant, she said.

The national outbreak has sickened more than 600 people, is suspected of causing at least nine deaths, and led to one of the largest product recalls in U.S. history. Unable to recover from the fallout, the company has filed for bankruptcy.

The FDA’s investigation is ongoing and the agency is looking at both the PCA Blakely plant and the PCA Plainview plant as sources of contamination for the outbreak,” Kwisnek said. Kwisnek said that since the salmonella findings at the Blakely, Georgia, plant, the FDA had expanded the scope of inspections to include other plants, including the one in Plainview.

Texas health officials ordered a recall on all peanut products from the Plainview plant on 12 February — the same day they took the peanut meal sample that tested positive — after finding dead rodents, rodent excrement, and bird feathers in a crawl space above a production area. It is not clear if the batch of products tested sickened anyone, but on Tuesday, federal officials said other test results confirmed peanut butter made from peanuts processed at the Texas plant also contained the same strain.

Health officials in Colorado had traced salmonella cases there to peanut butter sold by the Vitamin Cottage grocery chain. The natural foods chain has said that the peanuts used in the Vitamin Cottage peanut butter came from PCA’s plant in Plainview. Federal authorities have launched a criminal investigation into allegations Peanut Corp. knowingly shipped tainted food. Peanut Corp. also faces a growing number of federal lawsuits seeking millions of dollars of damages from victims of the outbreak.

The FDA said that so far, more than 2,670 products have been recalled.