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Salmonella source fined US$14.6m

THE American plant owned by a peanut company blamed for a national salmonella outbreak that sickened nearly 700 people was fined a record US$14.6 million on Thursday.

The state fined Plainview Peanut Corp LLC over violations that include unsanitary conditions, product contamination, illnesses linked to peanuts from the plant and operating for almost four years without a food manufacturer's license, the Texas Department of State Health Services said.

The agency said it sent a notice of violation to the Texas plant on Wednesday.

Spokesman Doug McBride said the fine was the largest ever levied by the department.

"We felt the assessment of the administrative fines needed to be done regardless of financial situations," he said, referring to bankruptcy filings by the plant's owner, Peanut Corp of America.

"If there is a violation, the penalties need to be assessed, period."

The plant voluntarily closed in February after a private lab sample showed likely salmonella contamination. Texas health officials later ordered a recall of products processed there.

Andy Goldstein, an attorney handling the bankruptcy case for Peanut Corp, didn't immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

In January, federal investigators identified a Georgia peanut-processing plant operated by Peanut Corp as the source of the salmonella outbreak, believed to be the cause of at least nine deaths.

At the Texas plant, inspectors found that a ventilation system was pulling debris from an infested crawl space into production areas.

The plant was ordered by the state to stop producing and distributing food products.

Thousands of possibly contaminated consumer products were recalled in one of the country's largest product recalls.


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