Broken links in food-safety chain hid peanut plants' risks
Posted: April 27th, 2009 - 8:41am by Doug Powell
Julie Schmit of USA Today has written another excellent overview documenting the multiple failures – bad inspections, bad audits, bad people -- that led to the peanut paste crapola that sickened 700 and killed nine.
Below are just a few of the highlights:
•Deibel Labs, which ran more than 1,600 salmonella tests for PCA's Blakely plant from 2004 through 2008, found almost 6% positive. It was so many that Deibel sent PCA's samples to a separate part of its Chicago lab to lessen chances that they'd contaminate other products, Charles Deibel, the firm's president, said in an interview. For roasted products such as peanuts, a positive rate above 1 in 10,000 would be high, Deibel said. Proper roasting kills salmonella with heat. PCA never asked Deibel to look into the issue, Deibel said.
•Nestlé audited the Blakely plant in 2002 and rejected it as a supplier. Nestlé's audit report said the plant needed a "better understanding of the concept of deep cleaning" and failed to adequately separate unroasted raw peanuts from roasted ones. Having them in the same area could allow bacteria on raw nuts to contaminate roasted ones, a risk known as cross-contamination. The plant wasn't even close to Nestlé's standards, auditor Richard Hutson said in an interview. Hutson, who now heads quality assurance for several Nestlé divisions, said he shared his concerns with PCA officials at the time, but "they didn't pursue it" further with Nestlé, he says.
• To win customers, Parnell "extolled" the fact that an auditor, AIB International, had rated the plant as "superior," said King Nut CEO Martin Kanan at a congressional hearing. King Nut sold peanut butter under its name that was made by PCA. That rating also satisfied Kellogg, which began buying PCA's peanut paste for sandwich crackers in 2007.
• AIB also draws criticism from a former food-industry official. Its audit of PCA was "superficial," said Jim Lugg, former food-safety chief for bagged salad maker Fresh Express, who reviewed AIB's audit of PCA at USA TODAY's request. One example of "shallow treatment of a big issue," Lugg says, is that the audit notes that PCA had a written program to evaluate suppliers and had an approved list. But AIB did no further checking of the suppliers. Years ago, Fresh Express stopped using AIB audits because it found them inadequate, he adds.