Inspectors Found Mildew in Peanut Butter Plant

Inspectors found mildew on a ceiling and other problems last year at a peanut butter producing plant in Georgia that has been linked to a salmonella outbreak, according to reports released Monday by the state Department of Agriculture.

But the owner of the Blakely, Georgia, plant -- Virginia-based Peanut Corp. of America -- described the problems as "relatively minor and for the most part corrected on site."

PCA this month stopped production at the Blakely plant and launched a nationwide recall of peanut butter and peanut paste made there after July 1, 2008.

The New York Times reported Monday that Georgia agriculture inspection reports from 2006 and 2007 depicted a series of sanitation lapses in the Blakely plant.

Citing an inspection report from August 23, 2007, the Times noted at least three incidences in which "food-contact surfaces" were "not properly cleaned and sanitized."

In an apparent response to the Times article, PCA released a statement saying, "When the observations were noted during inspections by the Georgia Department of Agriculture, corrective action was taken immediately where possible and subsequently when immediate action was not possible."

The statement, which PCA sent to CNN accompanied by a copy of a state inspection report from last October, said "the most recent inspection observations by the state [the October inspection report] were relatively minor and for the most part corrected on site."

In the October 23, 2008 report, an inspector said she found "mildew and possibly some static dust on ceiling of butter storage room." The report did not specify the amount of mildew.

The report continued with the notation, "Correct By: 11/05/2008," but the report did not indicate whether any action was taken or whether a follow-up inspection occurred.

Moisture was blamed for an unrelated salmonella outbreak two years ago. That outbreak was traced to a different Georgia peanut processing plant.

A June 2008 inspection of PCA's Blakely plant found violations including dust buildup on a fan in the butter room, and "possible metal flakes from metal scrubber which is used to clean outside of equipment," according to an inspection report. The report did not indicate where the flakes were found.

PCA has said that the peanut butter and peanut paste made at the Blakely plant were sold in bulk to manufacturers, and that the recall does not involve any peanut butter jars sold directly to consumers.

However, more than 125 products that include peanut butter or peanut paste, including Trader Joe's celery with peanut butter packs and nutrition bars from Clif Bar, NutriSystem and Luna, have been recalled in connection with the PCA's recall.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has counted nearly 500 cases of salmonella illnesses in 43 states from the most recent outbreak, and says the bacterial infection might have contributed to seven deaths.

The American Peanut Council has a list of peanut products that are not affected by the recall., and you can find that on http://www.peanutsusa.com.


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