FDA details mess in Texas plant tied to Salmonella cases

Mar 4, 2009 (CIDRAP News) – Inspectors at a Texas peanut processing plant tied to the current nationwide Salmonella outbreak found dead mice, mouse droppings, roof leaks, gooey buildups on equipment, and other sanitation problems, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The problems in the Peanut Corp. of America's (PCA's) Plainview, Tex., plant are detailed in a seven-page inspection report posted online yesterday by the FDA. The Plainview plant was the second of two PCA facilities tied to the outbreak, which involves at least 677 illnesses in 45 states.

The outbreak, which publicly surfaced in early January, has been blamed mainly on PCA's processing plant in Blakely, Ga. But in February, the outbreak strain of Salmonella Typhimurium was found in products from the Texas plant.

Texas officials on Feb 12 reported finding dead rodents, rodent excrement, and feathers in a crawl space above a production area of the Plainview plant. The newly released FDA report offers more details. It says inspectors found abundant evidence of mice in processing areas of the plant, including:

  • Six dead mice in a crawl space above the ceiling over the kitchen and blanching area of the plant
  • A dead mouse stuck to a glue trap in a room off the kitchen
  • Rodent pellets on a countertop, under a sink, and in cabinets in various rooms in the kitchen area

The inspectors also found various other problems:

  • Buildups of "peanut fines, meal, chunks, or paste (some gooey other solidified)" on numerous pieces of processing equipment
  • A failure to operate ventilation equipment in a way that minimized the risk of contamination of food and food-contact surfaces
  • Several roof leaks that allowed rainwater to drip into peanut processing areas
  • Storage of recalled peanut products from the Blakely plant among Plainview products awaiting shipment to customers, without separation and labeling to guard against inadvertent shipment of the recalled Blakely products

The report did not describe the peanut products that had been shipped to Plainview from the Blakely plant. A PCA e-mail that surfaced during a Feb 11 congressional hearing on the outbreak indicated that tons of raw peanuts had been shipped from Blakely to Plainview but did not mention any processed products having been shipped there.

The Plainview plant blanched, split, granulated, and roasted peanuts, according to the FDA. After the discovery of unsanitary conditions there, Texas officials on Feb 12 ordered PCA to shut the plan down and recall all products made there.

PCA filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on Feb 13 and a week later said the filing barred it from communicating with customers. As a result, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) and the FDA are collaborating to handle the recall, according to Sebastian Cianci, an FDA spokesman.

The DSHS is notifying all the parties that received products from the Plainview plant since Jan 1, 2007, Cianci said. Once that task is done, the FDA will check how all of those businesses responded to the notices, he said.

Cianci said all products made at the Plainview plant since Jan 1, 2007, are subject to a Class I recall, meaning consuming the products could lead to serious health problems. Products made at the plant before 2007 are subject only to a "market withdrawal," a classification the agency uses when a product has a minor violation that would not trigger FDA legal action, he said.

"From a regulatory standpoint we can't reach the same conclusion [concerning Class I status] at this point regarding the product manufactured in this time frame, before 2007," Cianci said.

However, "Whether it's a market withdrawal or a recall, it still equates to a product coming off the shelf," he added.

Cases in the current outbreak were first linked to the Plainview plant in mid-February, when the outbreak strain was found in an opened jar of peanut butter from a case-patient in Colorado. The peanut butter had been made by Vitamin Cottage, a natural-foods retail chain, from peanuts that came from the Plainview facility. Later the strain was found in a jar of Vitamin Cottage peanut butter from another patient, Cianci said today.

In addition, the FDA and the DSHS each tested samples of peanut meal from the Plainview plant during their investigation and found the outbreak strain, Cianci said.

Also, he noted that a private laboratory hired by PCA found Salmonella in peanut meal and granulated peanuts from the plant. He said the FDA was still working on determining the precise strain of Salmonella in those samples.

The total number of products recalled because of the current outbreak stood at 3,076 today, according to the FDA.

See also:

FDA update on outbreak investigation
http://www.fda.gov/Safety/Recalls/MajorProductRecalls/Peanut/default.htm

FDA list of recalled products
http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/peanutbutterrecall/index.cfm

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