FDA agent: Peanut plant ‘not fit’ to produce food

ALBANY, Ga. – A Georgia peanut plant linked to a deadly salmonella outbreak shipped food to customers that lab tests confirmed was tainted, failed to clean production equipment of possible contaminants and didn’t ensure a peanut roaster was hot enough to kill bacteria, a federal inspector testified Wednesday.

Janet Gray, a food safety inspector for the Food and Drug Administration, was sent to investigate conditions at Peanut Corp. of America’s plant in rural Blakely, Georgia, after the outbreak was traced to peanut butter made there. The company’s products were blamed for the deaths on nine Americans and for sickening hundreds nationwide. Now the company’s former owner and two others are standing trial in a rare instance of corporate officers and workers being prosecuted in a food poisoning case.

“I felt the firm was not fit to produce products for human consumption,” Gray told U.S. District Court jurors Wednesday in summing up her inspection of the plant in January and February 2009. The plant was shut down afterward and Peanut Corp. later went bankrupt.

The 2008-09 salmonella outbreak prompted one of the largest food recalls in U.S. history. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 714 people in 46 states were infected and nine people died – three in Minnesota, two in Ohio, two in Virginia, one in Idaho and one in North Carolina.