Salmonella Outbreak Strain Also Linked to Texas Plant

By: By MIKE STOBBE and GREG BLUESTEIN
By: By MIKE STOBBE and GREG BLUESTEIN

ATLANTA (AP) - Tests have confirmed that peanut butter made from
peanuts processed at a Texas plant contains the same strain of
salmonella blamed for sickening hundreds in a national outbreak,
federal officials said Tuesday.

The test results offer new evidence that the outbreak attributed
to a peanut plant in Georgia may have more than one source. Both
the Texas plant and the Georgia plant were operated by Peanut Corp.
of America, which filed for bankruptcy amid fallout from the
outbreak that has sickened more than 600 and may have contributed
to nine deaths. The outbreak has also prompted one of the largest
food recalls in U.S. history.

Meanwhile, federal inspectors are taking a closer look at Peanut
Corp.'s plant in Virginia, where records obtained by The Associated
Press on Tuesday show state inspectors repeatedly found health
violations.

The link between the outbreak strain and the Texas plant
surfaced after health officials in Colorado traced salmonella cases
there to peanut butter sold by the Vitamin Cottage grocery chain.
The peanuts used in the Vitamin Cottage peanut butter came from
Peanut Corp.'s plant in Plainview, Texas, the natural foods chain
has said.

An opened container of Vitamin Cottage peanut butter tested
positive for the outbreak strain, which came from a Colorado
resident who got sick, company vice president Heather Isely has
said. Earlier, the same strain of salmonella bacteria was detected
in containers of peanut butter that had been produced at a Peanut
Corp. plant in Blakely, Ga.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration spokeswoman Stephanie Kwisnek
said two samples of Vitamin Cottage peanut butter from two
different consumers tested positive for the outbreak strain, but it
was not clear how many containers were involved.

It's possible the Vitamin Cottage peanut butter was contaminated
after it was opened, health officials noted. But the latest test
results raise questions about how many of the outbreak illnesses -
which have been attributed to the Blakely plant - came from other
production facilities.

"Because of the public health risk posed by positive findings
of salmonella associated with the outbreak strain at PCA's plant in
Blakely, Ga., the FDA expanded its scope of inspections to include
other PCA plants," said FDA spokeswoman Stephanie Kwisnek.

Peanut Corp., the Lynchburg, Va.-based food processor, has filed
for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and federal authorities have launched a
criminal investigation into allegations the company 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.

In Virginia, tests for salmonella have come back negative. But
inspection reports revealed evidence of rodents and other
unsanitary conditions at the Peanut Corp. plant in Suffolk. State
inspectors repeatedly found evidence of rodents at the plant since
Peanut Corp. bought it in 2000, according to inspection reports.

As recently as October, a Virginia inspector found "an
accumulation of black, green and yellow mold" on blanched peanuts
and 43 containers each holding 2,000-pounds of peanuts. The plant
manager told the inspector after the discovery that those peanuts
would be destroyed if not used for animal feed and oil stock.

Virginia Agriculture Department spokeswoman Elaine Lidholm has
called those findings minor violations.
---
Associated Press writers Brett J. Blackledge in Washington and
Greg Bluestein contributed to this report.


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