February 6, 2009

Possibly Contaminated Peanut Butter Shipped To Schools

Possibly contaminated peanut butter and other foods were shipped by the Agriculture Department to schools in at least three states under a contract with the Georgia peanut company at fault for a nationwide salmonella outbreak.

According to an AP report, as of Thursday, all business with the company had been stopped, as officials defended their efforts to halt the outbreak that has sickened at least 575 people in 43 states. At least eight have died.

With more than 1,300 possibly contaminated products, the Georgia plant is at the center of one of the largest food recalls ever.

The Department of Agriculture said Friday that the potentially contaminated products went to school free lunch programs in California, Minnesota and Idaho in 2007.

Both peanut butter and roasted peanuts processed by the Peanut Corp. of America were sent to the schools.

So far, none of the states have reported any illness as a result of students eating the recalled peanut products.

"There have been no potentially contaminated shipments from the company in the last year. It was unclear how much of the suspect food might still remain uneaten at the schools," said Jim Brownlee, a spokesman for the Agriculture Department.

The Agriculture department suspended Peanut Corp. from participating in government contract programs for at least a year.

Stewart Parnell, president of the company, was also removed from USDA's Peanut Standards Board.

David Shipman, acting administrator of USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service, said the company's actions indicate that it lacks business integrity and business honesty, which seriously and directly hinders its ability to do business with the federal government.

The outbreak seems to be slowing down, but new illnesses are still being reported and school officials across the country have been checking cafeterias and vending machines for the recalled products.

Many schools have stopped serving any peanut-related products at all as a precautionary measure.

The Peanut Corp. of America had received a series of private tests dating back to 2007 showing salmonella in their products from the Georgia plant, but later shipped the items after obtaining negative test results, according to recent reports obtained by the FDA.

School meal programs were initially unaffected by the large-scale recall. But the Agriculture Department initially changed that after Peanut Corp. expanded its recall to all peanut products made at the plant since Jan. 1, 2007.

Lawmakers reacted angrily during a Senate hearing Thursday on the salmonella outbreak after it was announced that food companies and state safety inspectors don't have to report to the FDA when test results find pathogens in a processing plant, leaving the federal government in the dark.


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