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Peanut firm expands recall to all products

A salmonella outbreak spawned one of the largest ever product recalls by a Georgia peanut plant where federal inspectors found roaches, mold, a leaking roof and other sanitary problems.

Managers at the Blakely, Georgia plant owned by Peanut Corp of America continued shipping peanut products even after they were found to contain salmonella.

Peanut Corp expanded its recall on Wednesday to all peanut products produced at the plant since January 1, 2007. The company is relatively small, but its peanut paste is an ingredient in hundreds of other food products, from ice cream, to Asian-style sauces, to dog biscuits. Major national brands of peanut butter are not affected.

A senior law maker in Congress and Georgia's agriculture commissioner called for a criminal investigation of the company, but the Food and Drug Administration said that such a step is premature while its own food safety investigation continues.

More than 500 people have gotten sick in the outbreak and at least eight may have died as a result of salmonella infection. More than 400 products have already been recalled. The plant has stopped production.

"We feel very confident that it's one of the largest recalls we've had," said Stephen Sundlof, head of the FDA's food safety center. "We're still in the process of identifying products, but it certainly is among the largest."

Most of the older products recalled on Wednesday probably have been eaten already. Officials said that they were seeing no signs of any earlier outbreaks that might be linked to the plant.

The latest recall covers peanut butter, peanut paste, peanut meal and granulated products, as well as all peanuts - dry and oil roasted - shipped from the factory.

Stewart Parnell, president of the firm, said in a statement late Wednesday that the recall was expanded out of an abundance of caution.

"We have been devastated by this, and we have been working around the clock with the FDA to ensure any potentially unsafe products are removed from the market immediately," Parnell said, adding that officials at the Virginia-based company were cooperating with state and federal inquiries.

FDA inspectors reported that salmonella had been found previously at least 12 times in products made at the plant, but production lines were never cleaned up after internal tests indicated contamination. Products that initially tested positive were retested. When the company got a negative reading, it shipped the products out.

That happened as recently as September. A month later, health officials started picking up signs of the outbreak.

PCA said that it "categorically denies any allegations that the company sought favorable results from any lab in order to ship its products."

Michael Rogers, a senior FDA investigator, said that it's possible for salmonella to hide in small pockets of a large batch of peanut butter.


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