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The NY Times informs us today that the PCA plant in Blakely, Ga. responsible for the current peanut butter salmonella outbreak has a history of sanitation lapses and has been cited repeatedly since 2006 by state inspectors -

The processing plant in Georgia that produced peanut butter tainted by salmonella has a history of sanitation lapses and was cited repeatedly in 2006 and 2007 for having dirty surfaces and walls and grease residue and dirt build-up throughout the plant, according to state health inspection reports.

Inspections of the plant in Blakely, Ga., by the state agriculture department found areas of rust that could flake into food, gaps in warehouse doors large enough for rodents to get through, unmarked spray bottles and containers, and numerous violations of other practices designed to prevent food contamination. The plant, owned by Peanut Corporation of America of Lynchburg, Va., has been shut down.

Crossposted from La Vida Locavore, more below the fold...

The idea of unmarked spray bottles and containers floating around in a food processing facility is something I'm still quite trying to get my head around.

I was working in the paint mix room for a Boeing contractor this time last year...even when I just filled a bucket with water to wipe down the light fixtures, I had to be sure to clearly label the container at least twice with the word "water".  I can't believe there were actually unmarked spray bottles and containers floating around a food processing facility!  If you ever needed yet another reason to stay far, far away from processed foods...

A typical entry from an inspection report, dated Aug. 23, 2007, noted: "The food-contact surfaces of re-work kettle in the butter room department were not properly cleaned and sanitized." Additional entries noted: "The food-contact surfaces of the bulk oil roast transfer belt in the mezzazine [sic] room were not properly cleaned and sanitized. The food-contact surfaces of pan without wheels in the blanching department were not properly cleaned and sanitized."

And remember - they were by this time already cited for "gaps in warehouse doors large enough for rodents to get through".  And they're not properly cleaning food-contact surfaces?

Was there ever any mention of this in the local press before?  I honestly don't know...but if not, why?  

If there was a repeated pattern of violations at this facility; why were things ever allowed to get to this point?  Seven people have died, and at least 500 people in 43 states and Canada have been sickened by their contaminated products.  The numbers of sicknesses caused by this are certain to be higher than reported, as most cases of food poisoning are simply shrugged off as regular sicknesses and never reported to public health authorities.

"If there is a record of habitual violations of food safety standards, the F.D.A. should have initiated strenuous enforcement action," said Tony Corbo, a senior lobbyist with the group. "This company needed more scrutiny. If this plant was in fact so dirty, they were asking for trouble."

"Conservative" policies in action for us.  Or inaction, whatever...

The New York Times obtained the information from the Georgia State Department of Agriculture under the state's open records act.  There are also two reports from 2008 inspections that were not released due to the ongoing investigation.  Might be interesting to see what was in those reports.  We'll surely find out soon...

The latest peanut butter recall news can be found here, and the current list of recalled products is also available at the FDA's site.

Originally posted to Hardhat Democrat on Mon Jan 26, 2009 at 01:19 PM PST.

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