4 Salmonella strains tied to peanut plant

January 29, 2009 6:29:46 AM PST
The probe into the salmonella outbreak has yielded a major new twist - the discovery of new strains of the bacteria. And federal officials say the company knew there was trouble at the plant.

Federal health officials say the Georgia peanut processing plant at the center of a national salmonella outbreak had a history of problems it failed to correct.

Officials said Tuesday that the Peanut Corp. of America plant had repeatedly shipped products that the company's own initial tests found to be positive for salmonella. Peanut Corp. also failed to take standard steps to prevent contamination within the facility. Indeed, investigators have identified four different strains of salmonella thus far.

Salmonella Typhimurium is the strain that caused the illnesses. Two other strains were found on the floor of the facility and a third in a container of peanut butter from the plant.

Dr. Robert Tauxe of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there was certainly a salmonella problem in the plant.

Peanut Corp. had no initial response.

The New York Times reports that state health inspection reports from 2006 and 2007 showed dirty surfaces, grease residue, and dirt buildup throughout the plant.

Among the reports by the Georgia Agriculture Department are notations about rust that could flake into food, gaps in warehouse doors large enough for rodents to enter, and unmarked spray bottles and containers.

Meanwhile, the recalls list has grown to more 390 products, from ice cream to dog biscuits. More than 500 people have gotten sick, and the outbreak is believed to have contributed to eight deaths.

A congressional official briefed on the investigation said health officials have identified four types of salmonella as they focus on a Georgia facility. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing.

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