LYNCHBURG, VA. — Citing "a great deal of confusing and misleading information in the media," the Peanut Corporation of America stated Feb. 4 that there were regular inspections and visits to the company’s Blakely, Ga., facility by federal and state regulators during 2008. The company also said independent audits were conducted at the plant and one auditor gave the plant an overall "superior" rating, and another rated the plant as "meet or exceeds audit expectations."
The company statement came as the federal government’s investigation into what is turning out to be the largest recall in history, with more than 1,300 products recalled to date, continued.
On Jan. 28, the F.D.A. released a report based on its investigation of the Blakely facility after the source of the Salmonella contamination had been traced to the plant. In the report, the inspectors pinpointed 12 instances where independent laboratory tests detected the presence of various Salmonella strains in P.C.A. products, but the company had the products retested, found them to be negative and shipped them to customers.
Other observations in the report included failure to perform mechanical manufacturing steps so as to protect food against contamination; failure to store finished food under conditions that would protect against microbial contamination; the design of equipment and utensils failed to preclude the adulteration of food with contaminants; and proper precautions to protect food and food-contact surfaces from contamination with microorganisms could be taken because of deficiencies in plant construction and design.
The P.C.A. denied it sought favorable test results from any laboratories testing its products.
Fall-out from the food-borne illness outbreak associated with the recall has prompted Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut to introduce the Food Safety Modernization Act.
"This Salmonella outbreak represents the full-scale breakdown of a patchwork food safety system," Ms. DeLauro said. "And it should act as the final wake-up call. That is why, today, I am introducing the Food Safety Modernization Act to separate food safety regulation from drug and device approvals and to restore the balance that has long been missing at Health and Human Service."
Under the proposal, the F.D.A. would be split into an agency responsible for food safety (the Food Safety Administration) and another responsible for regulation of drugs and devices. The move would create an agency solely focused on protecting the public through better regulation of the food supply. The program would be designed to establish a farm-to-fork system for protecting foods that are currently regulated by the F.D.A., which has jurisdiction over 80% of the food supply.
In addition, the proposed legislation would update food laws and change the focus to preventing disease-causing contamination. Specifically, the bill would require food processors to control health hazards in their operations; meet federal standards for preventing or removing contaminants and pathogens from food; and be subject to regular inspections by federal officials based on the risk profile of the products they produce.
The leader of the proposed Food Safety Administration would have sufficient enforcement authority, including authority to order recalls, seize unsafe food before it enters the market, and impose fines on companies that refuse to abide by the law, under the proposal.