Friday, February 13, 2009

Company Forced To Recall All Products Made At Texas Plant

Surely by now you've heard about the massive recall of peanut products instituted by the FDA, after cases of salmonella were traced back to a Georgia plant operated by the Peanut Corporation of America. Well, if you've been paying especially close attention to the Texas angle, you know that Texas health officials discovered that Peanut Corp. was operating an unlicensed plant in Plainview, about 200 miles NE of the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex, a plant that officials new nothing about until four years after it opened. Texas state law requiers food manufacturers to be licensed with the state and to undergo routine testing of health conditions. Although the AP story I link to indicates that testing by both state and federal officials produced no evidence of bacterial contamination, this story in today's Washington Post tells a completely different story:

Texas health officials ordered the recall Thursday of peanut products from a plant operated by the company at the center of a national salmonella outbreak, days after tests indicated the likely presence of the bacteria there.

Peanut Corp. of America was ordered to recall all products ever shipped from its plant in Plainview after the Texas Department of State Health Services said it found dead rodents, rodent excrement and bird feathers in a crawl space above a production area on Wednesday.


Texas inspectors also found that the air handling system was pulling debris from the infested crawl space into production areas at the Plainview plant that processed dry roasted peanuts, peanut meal and granulated peanuts. The plant, which voluntarily closed Monday, was also ordered by the state to stop producing and distributing food products.

McBride said he did not know the volume of products that needed to be pulled back.

Private lab tests returned Monday showed likely salmonella contamination at the plant that opened in March 2005, but officials said it didn't appear the potentially tainted products from the lots that were tested made it to consumers. Further testing was needed to confirm the results, but the health department said Thursday that their orders are not contingent on finding salmonella.

Emphasis mine. Note this from the aforementioned AP story:

The plant was properly registered with the FDA as a food processing plant, said David Glasgow, director of the agency's investigations branch in Dallas.

Margaret Glavin, a retired senior FDA official, said those registrations don't help much. She said food producers are required to register under the Bioterrorism Act of 2002, but there is no reliable database that is regularly updated to aid food inspectors. Some companies are listed multiple times, and others remain on the government's list even after they go out of business.

"The database is terrible," said Glavin, who recently stepped down as associate commissioner for FDA's regulator affairs.

I don't quite understand the disparity in the stories, as there is no clear timeline for when testing of the unregistered plant was done. Regardless, this is yet another reminder of how vulnerable our food network is, and how critical oversight is in protecting it.

UPDATE: For those you trying to figure out what you can and cannot eat, keep an eye on this regularly updated recall page provided by the FDA. I'm not sure if products related to the recall by Texas officials are listed there yet, but I'm sure they will be added eventually. Also for the time being I've added the FDA's handy recall widget to our blog.

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