peanut.jpgNothing says "we care about a quality product and not just sucking profit out regardless of the crap we sell" like this:

Raw peanuts were stored next to the finished peanut butter. The roaster was not calibrated to kill deadly germs. Dispirited workers on minimum wage, supplied by temp agencies, donned their uniforms at home, potentially dragging contaminants into the plant, which also had rodents….

Problems emerged in southwest Georgia’s peanut country in 2004, when a whistleblower reported that the food-product giant ConAgra Foods had found salmonella in peanut butter at its plant in Sylvester, Ga., 75 miles from Blakely. But when plant officials declined to release their laboratory tests, the Food and Drug Administration did not pursue the records and was unable to confirm the report of salmonella.

The government finally demanded the records three years later, and verified the whistleblower’s claims, after hundreds of people were sickened by salmonella-tainted peanut butter produced at the plant in 2007. Even then, ConAgra insisted that the government not make those records public, according to documents obtained last week by The New York Times. Calling its testing proprietary, ConAgra told the food agency in a Feb. 27, 2007, letter: “Once F.D.A. has completed its review of the documents, please return them to ConAgra Foods or shred.”

ConAgra, which makes Peter Pan, ultimately improved conditions at its plant and increased testing. But neither federal regulators nor state regulators imposed those same standards on other peanut facilities like the one in Blakely, records and interviews show. To the contrary, inspection reports on the Peanut Corporation of America plant over the last three years show that state inspectors — Georgia has only 60 agents to monitor 16,000 food-handling businesses — missed major problems that workers say were chronic.

Can you say massive food safety cluster-fuck? Good lord.  In reading through an interview with food safety advocate Bill Marler, I have an urge to throw away half the food in my pantry.

Marler, who has a blog as well, has some suggestions to improve food safety, including:

‘Improve surveillance of bacterial and viral diseases. First responders – ER physicians and local doctors – need to be encouraged to test for pathogens and report findings directly to local and state health departments and the CDC promptly.’

‘These same governmental departments, whether local, state or federal, need to learn to “play well together.” Turf battles need to take a back seat to stopping an outbreak and tracking it to its source.’

‘Require real training and certification of food handlers at restaurants and grocery stores. There also should be incentives for ill employees not to come to work when ill. We should impose fines and penalties on employers who do not cooperate.’

‘Stiffen license requirements for large farm, retail and wholesale food outlets, so that nobody gets a license until they and their employees have shown they understand the hazards and how to avoid them.’

‘Increase food inspections. While domestic production has continued to be a problem, imports pose an increasing risk, especially if terrorists were to get into the act. Points of export and entry are a logical place to step up monitoring.’

‘Reorganize federal, state and local food safety agencies to increase cooperation and reduce wasteful overlap and conflicts. Reform federal, state and local agencies to make them more proactive, and less reactive.’

‘There are too few legal consequences for sickening or killing customers by selling contaminated food. We should impose stiff fines, and even prison sentences for violators and even stiffer penalties for repeat violators.’…

Amen. Boy, that whole tort reform movement really sounds awesome about the time your kid gets sick with food-tainted salmonella and you find out public inspections aren’t worth a damn, doesn’t it?

And while it may be better to say that you are "sorry" in PR terms, as Marler says, sometimes you really need to admit you were a greedy, reckless dumbass and get it over with…

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com

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