Salmonella found at Texas peanut plant

February 25, 2009 1:59:16 PM PST
Tests show ground peanuts at a Texas plant were contaminated with the same strain of salmonella that has sickened hundreds of people across the nation, state health officials said Wednesday.

The peanut meal was tested at the Plainview plant Feb. 12 after the facility had voluntarily shut down, said Doug McBride, a spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services. Previously, private tests conducted by Virginia-based Peanut Corp. of America, which operated the plant, had tentatively indicated that there may have been salmonella at the plant.

The Texas plant is the second facility operated by the embattled Peanut Corp. to test positive for salmonella. A different strain was found at the company's Blakely, Ga., plant.

The national outbreak has sickened more than 600 people and is suspected of causing at least nine deaths, and led to one of the largest product recalls in U.S. history. Unable to recover from the fallout, the company has filed for bankruptcy.

"The FDA's investigation is ongoing and the agency is looking at both the PCA Blakely plant and the PCA Plainview plant as sources of contamination for the outbreak," said U.S. Food and Drug Administration spokeswoman Stephanie Kwisnek.

Kwisnek said that since the salmonella findings at the Blakely, Ga., plant, the FDA had expanded the scope of inspections to include other plants, including the one in Plainview.

Texas health officials ordered a recall on all peanut products from the Plainview plant on Feb. 12 - the same day they took the peanut meal sample that tested positive - after finding dead rodents, rodent excrement and bird feathers in a crawl space above a production area.

It isn't clear if the batch of products tested sickened anyone, but on Tuesday, federal officials said other test results confirmed peanut butter made from peanuts processed at the Texas plant also contained the same strain.

Health officials in Colorado had traced salmonella cases there to peanut butter sold by the Vitamin Cottage grocery chain. The natural foods chain has said that the peanuts used in the Vitamin Cottage peanut butter came from PCA's plant in Plainview.

Federal authorities have launched a criminal investigation into allegations Peanut Corp. knowingly shipped tainted food. Peanut Corp. also faces a growing number of federal lawsuits seeking millions of dollars of damages from victims of the outbreak.

A message left Wednesday afternoon with Andy Goldstein, the Peanut Corp.'s bankruptcy lawyer, was not immediately returned.

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