Salmonella outbreak strain found in Texas plant

Feb 25, 2009 (CIDRAP News) – More evidence that the Salmonella strain responsible for a nationwide outbreak was present in two widely separated Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) facilities surfaced yesterday when Texas officials announced they had found the contaminant in a product from PCA's Plainview, Tex., processing plant.

Earlier this month the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it found the Salmonella Typhimurium outbreak strain in an opened jar of peanut butter that a Colorado patient had bought from Vitamin Cottage Natural Foods, which made the product from peanuts it received from PCA's plant in Plainview.

Doug McBride, spokesman for the Texas Department of Health Services (TDHS), said yesterday that peanut meal sampled from the Plainview plant on Feb 12 tested positive for Salmonella Typhimurium, according to a report today from the Dallas Morning News.

"Our lab determined that it is the outbreak strain of Typhimurium. We don't know what that means yet," he said, adding that the TDHS was looking for evidence that peanuts were shipped between the two plants. The plants are more than 1,100 miles apart, the Morning News reported.

Details about shipping of peanuts from PCA's Blakely, Ga., plant to its Texas facility have not yet been spelled out in investigative reports. However, a Jan 19 e-mail from PCA President Stewart Parnell to another employee, made public during a Feb 11 hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, indicates that some raw peanuts from the Georgia plant were shipped to the Texas plant.

Parnell wrote that trucks containing about 43,000 pounds of raw peanuts had been shipped to the Plainview plant. "Obviously we are not shipping any peanut butter products affected by the recall but desperately at least need to turn the raw peanuts on our floor into money," he wrote. "We have other raw peanuts on our floor that we would like to do the same with." Parnell wrote the e-mail while FDA officials were conducting their investigation of PCA's Georgia plant.

In his e-mail, Parnell wrote that he believed the raw peanuts from the Georgia would be cooked, processed, and further tested at the Texas plant.

Craig Hedberg, PhD, a foodborne disease expert at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, told CIDRAP News that shipment of peanuts from the Georgia plant to the Texas plant would provide "a nice direct pathway for contamination."

"In terms of our overall understanding of the nature of the problem, it adds a nice piece to the puzzle," Hedberg said.

In other developments, the TDHS said on Feb 20 that it had taken over the recalls of products shipped from PCA's Plainview plant because the company quit responding to its recall requests. On the same day, PCA issued a statement saying that it could take no further action on recalls, because its chapter 7 bankruptcy filing on Feb 13 prohibited the company from communicating with customers.

On Feb 12 the TDHS ordered PCA to recall all products shipped from the Plainview plant since it opened in 2005, after finding that facility's unsealed ventilation system was pulling debris such as rodent excrement from a crawl space onto production areas.

The TDHS said it was notifying manufacturers, distributors, and retailers it believed received products from the company in 2008, though some had already issued recall notices. Also, the agency said it hoped to locate customer lists from previous years in PCA's records.

Meanwhile, the number of people sickened in the outbreak has risen to 666 in 45 states, according to an update yesterday from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The latest known disease onset was Feb 3. Though the CDC classified the outbreak as ongoing, it said the number of new cases has slowed moderately since December.

The number of product recalls continues to grow and has reached 2,670, according to an update yesterday from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

See also:

Feb 20 Texas Department of State Health Services press release

Feb 24 FDA Salmonella recall update

House Energy and Commerce committee link to Jan 19 Stewart Parnell e-mail

Feb 17 CIDRAP News story "FDA reports Salmonella in peanut butter tied to Texas plant"

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