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Salmonella peanut butter plant got state health inspector's pass

A Georgia health inspection last year noted only two minor violations. A few months later, federal inspectors found major problems. The outbreak is leaked to more than 500 illnesses.

February 02, 2009|Associated Press

BLAKELY, GA. — A Georgia health inspector who toured the peanut butter plant now at the center of a national salmonella outbreak noted two violations in October, both minor. Less than three months later, federal inspectors found roaches, mold, a leaking roof and other sanitation problems.

Food safety experts say the lapse is a major concern and shows that state inspectors are spread thin and might need more training on how to spot unsanitary conditions.

"It's surprising to me that that many major deficiencies were observed at one time, and none of these were picked up previously," said Michael Doyle, head of the food safety center at the University of Georgia.

In October, state inspector Donna Adams noted only two violations in her report on the Peanut Corp. of America plant: tote containers with butter residue and "black buildup" and "mildew and possibly some static dust on ceiling of butter storage room."

Her October report seems to conflict with conditions observed by at least one former employee, though others said they saw no problems.

Jonathan Prather, who said he worked in the plant's peanut butter room until he and most of the plant's other employees were laid off recently, said he sometimes saw unsanitary conditions, such as old and soggy peanuts being used.

When he raised concerns about the plant's cleanliness, Prather said, managers ignored him.

But another former employee, Lewis Smith, who worked at the plant for about two years, said it appeared generally clean except for a leaking roof.

A leaky roof would probably worry inspectors.

After a 2007 salmonella outbreak was linked to a ConAgra Foods Inc. peanut butter plant in Georgia, officials concluded that jars were contaminated when moisture from a roof leak and a malfunctioning sprinkler system mixed with dormant salmonella bacteria in the plant.

Adams, who inspected the plant twice last year, did not come to the door when a reporter visited her home.

At least 529 people have been sickened as a result of the outbreak, and at least eight may have died because of it.

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