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PCA Georgia Plant Owner on Tainted Peanut Products: Turn Them Loose!

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From MSNBC:

WASHINGTON – See the jar, the congressman challenged Stewart Parnell, holding up a container of the peanut seller’s products and asking if he’d dare eat them. Parnell pleaded the Fifth.

The owner of the peanut company at the heart of the massive salmonella recall refused to answer the lawmaker’s questions — or any others — Wednesday about the bacteria-tainted products he defiantly told employees to ship to some 50 manufacturers of cookies, crackers and ice cream.

"Turn them loose," Parnell had told his plant manager in an internal e-mail disclosed at the House hearing. The e-mail referred to products that once were deemed contaminated but were cleared in a second test last year.

Summoned by congressional subpoena, the owner of Peanut Corp. of America repeatedly invoked his right not to incriminate himself at the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on the salmonella outbreak that has sickened some 600 people, may be linked to nine deaths — the latest reported in Ohio on Wednesday — and resulted in one of the largest product recalls of more than 1,900 items.

"Did you or any officials ever place food products into inner state commerce you knew to be contaminated with salmonella?" asked Rep. Bart Stupak, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee.

"Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, on advice of my counsel, I respectively decline to answer your questions based on the protections afforded me under the U.S. Constitution," said Parnell.

Moments later, as Parnell sat stiffly, his hands folded in his lap at the witness table, as Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., held up a clear jar of his company’s products wrapped in crime-scene tape and asked if he would eat them.

Again, Parnell invoked the Fifth Amendment.

After he repeated the statement several times, lawmakers dismissed him from the hearing.

‘Total systemic breakdown’
Shortly after Parnell’s appearance, a lab tester told the panel that the company discovered salmonella at its Blakely, Ga., plant as far back as 2006. Food and Drug Administration officials told lawmakers more federal inspections could have helped prevent the outbreak.

"We appear to have a total systemic breakdown," said Stupak, D-Mich.

Cookies, candy, crackers, granola bars and other products made with contaminated peanuts have been shipped to schools, stores and nursing homes, prompting the massive recall. The government raided the company’s Georgia plant on Monday, and Peanut Corp. closed its Plainview, Texas, facility.

A federal criminal investigation is under way.

The House panel released e-mails obtained by its investigators showing Parnell ordered products identified with salmonella to be shipped and quoting his complaints that tests discovering the contaminated food were "costing us huge $$$$$."

For the rest of the article, click here.