House Seeks Testimony From Peanut Corp. President

By: By RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR and BRETT J. BLACKLEDGE, AP
By: By RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR and BRETT J. BLACKLEDGE, AP

WASHINGTON (AP) - Lawmakers want to hear from the president of a
small, family-owned company blamed for the national salmonella outbreak.

Stewart Parnell, president of Peanut Corp. of America, was subpoenaed for a hearing Wednesday of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is conducting a wide-ranging probe of the outbreak that has sickened at least 600 people and may have contributed to eight deaths.

The investigation is starting to zero in on the question of who was responsible.

"Hopefully, people are going to be held accountable," said Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., chairman of the committee's investigations panel.

Stupak says he wants know how Peanut Corp. managed to sell allegedly tainted goods month after month without triggering action by state and federal health authorities.

The company, now under FBI investigation, makes only about 1 percent of U.S. peanut products. But its ingredients are used by dozens of other food companies, and the list of recalls now tops 1,840 foods.

Federal law forbids producing or shipping foods under conditions that could harm consumers' health.

Peanut Corp.'s troubles mounted this week as the FBI raided corporate headquarters in Lynchburg, Va., as well as the Georgia plant. On Monday night, the company closed a second facility, in Plainview, Texas, after test results earlier in the day indicated salmonella was present in samples taken at the Texas plant. None of the products had been distributed to consumers, but the finding raised the prospect of a broader recall.

Further testing is needed to confirm the results, said Doug McBride, spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services.

After the results came back Monday, the FDA sent inspectors back to the Texas plant to check more thoroughly for signs of problems similar to those found at the Georgia plant, which has been identified as the source of the salmonella outbreak.

The company has said it is still investigating what happened and has expressed regret and concern for people who became ill. It is not clear whether Parnell will testify Wednesday or assert his constitutional right to not answer questions that may incriminate him.

A Food and Drug Administration inspection report found that the company shipped peanut products that tested positive for salmonella
on 12 occasions from 2007-08.

In some cases, Peanut Corp. got a second test before shipping that did not find salmonella. But in other cases, the company did not wait for the results of a second test before sending out its products, the FDA report said.

And, in one 2007 case, the company shipped chopped peanuts after
getting a positive test result for salmonella, the FDA said.

"No matter what the tests are, they don't care - they are shipping the product," said Stupak.
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On the Net:
FDA's salmonella page: http://tinyurl.com/8srctw

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

AP-NY-02-11-09 0314EST


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