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One of the Largest Food Recalls Ever Just Got Bigger: Peanut Corp. Texas Closed

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From The New York Times:

WASHINGTON — The Peanut Corporation of America closed its processing plant in Plainview, Tex., on Monday night after a laboratory test indicated possible salmonella contamination, a development that threatens to widen one of the largest food recalls ever and raises more questions about why the government allowed the plant to operate.

The company’s plant in Blakely, Ga., was identified a month ago as the source of a nationwide salmonella outbreak. And even though investigators soon determined that the company may have deliberately shipped contaminated products to some of the nation’s largest food makers, officials allowed the company’s plant in Texas to continue supplying customers.

Former workers at the Texas plant said in interviews with The New York Times that the facility was “disgusting” and shared many of the problems found in the plant in Georgia. But state and federal health officials said they did not have enough evidence to close the Texas plant.

The company also has a plant in Suffolk, Va. The Food and Drug Administration said it conducted a comprehensive inspection of the plant in late January and found no evidence of problems.

The Texas Department of State Health Services released a statement on Tuesday saying that “it does not appear that any of the implicated products — peanut meal, granulated peanuts and dry roasted peanuts — have reached consumers.” But a top official at the food and drug agency was far less reassuring, saying the investigation in Texas was continuing.

“I can’t speculate where this might lead us and whether another or expanded recall would be initiated” based on conditions at the Texas plant, said Michael Rogers, director of the F.D.A.’s division of field investigation.

Meanwhile, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents and criminal investigators from the food agency descended on the Peanut Corporation’s plant in Georgia on Monday and hauled away “a whole bunch of stuff,” said George Straitt, a food and drug agency spokesman.

The Peanut Corporation released a statement saying it was cooperating with the investigations and had voluntarily closed its Texas plant.

The contamination scare has been associated with 8 deaths and more than 500 illnesses and has led to one of the largest food recalls in the nation’s history, with more than 1,800 separate recalls of peanut butter, cookies, crackers and other foods. Peanut butter sales have plunged.

The scandal has also focused attention on weaknesses in the nation’s oversight of food safety, leading the Obama administration to conduct a top-to-bottom review of the food agency’s procedures and spurring multiple legislative proposals on Capitol Hill to overhaul food regulations. On Wednesday, the investigations subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee is to hold the second Congressional hearing on the scare, with more likely.

The Texas facility, which once housed a Jimmy Dean sausage plant, “had a blanching and roasting operation but did not make peanut butter,” Mr. Rogers said, based on a food agency inspection in late January.

Rest of the article is here.