I am looking forward to sending subpoeans to the "food safety" auditors of Peanut Corporation of America.  Again, save those documents all.

For weeks now, I have been hammering on all involved in this outbreak for full disclosure and transparency. Now, bit, by painful bit, the facts are slowly coming out. The sixth item on my “TO DO LIST,” – “The FDA and PCA must release all inspection reports on the PCA plant by any governmental entity or third-party auditor,” is now being accomplished by the New York Times and USA Today.

Peanut Plant Says Audits Declared It in Top Shape

Kellogg, one of the companies that recalled peanut products, received reports of third-party independent audits of Peanut Corporation of America in 2007 and 2008. The audits, paid for by the peanut company to meet food manufacturers’ requirements, were intended to assess its compliance with federally mandated manufacturing practices, including the condition of the plant and equipment and cleanliness, said Kris Charles, a spokeswoman for Kellogg.

Each audit, conducted by AIB International, gave the Blakely plant a “superior” rating. “We are looking into whether the third-party auditor reviewed state inspection reports or the plant’s test results,” Ms. Charles said by e-mail. “It is certainly something we would have expected them to do because it is an audit requirement.” Kellogg also received written test results from Peanut Corporation of America that the peanut paste it had supplied Kellogg showed no positive salmonella results, she said.

Kellogg scrutinizes food suppliers due to peanut recall

Kellogg says it’s reviewing how it qualifies suppliers after a food-safety auditor it hired gave superior ratings to the Georgia peanut plant now at the center of one of the nation’s largest food recalls. The auditor checked out Peanut Corp. of America’s Blakely, Ga., plant in 2007 and 2008 and gave it superior ratings both times, says Kris Charles, Kellogg spokeswoman.

Kellogg’s auditor, the American Institute of Baking, says a superior rating doesn’t mean that auditors didn’t find problems. President Jim Munyon says he considers the audits Kellogg’s property and wouldn’t say what the audits found or whether the inspections were announced. He did say that AIB wouldn’t see internal test results unless PCA shared them. "They show us only what they want to show us," he says.

King Nut, which recalled PCA-made peanut butter, sends employees to audit larger suppliers but not ones as small as PCA, CEO Martin Kanan says. PCA did supply King Nut and other customers with certificates attesting to the ingredient’s quality.

  • M. Bucknavage

    If you had to guess the scenario based upon the information that has been in the press thus far, it would go something like this:
    You have a plant that operates hundreds of miles from the corporate headquarters. Clearly, they are not on top of what the plant is doing. Indicators: First, they had a plant in Texas that was not licensed or inspected. Second, they had positive results for Salmonella that were not acted on appropriately. Third, reoccurring conditions indicated on state audits show less than desirable conditions. And fourth, the fact that they continue to claim innocence in light of the information that is being presented. (This is similar to throwing the challenge flag in professional football when it should not be thrown – the player tells the coach he caught it, even though instant replay clearly shows it hit the ground first.)
    With regard to the Salmonella….the decision to ship was probably decided at the plant level. They either blamed the lab for misdiagnosis or plant management didn’t realize the severity of the issue. ‘Hey, what is one Salmonella positive, our product is going to be further processed anyway’ or ‘we have been running this way for years and never have had a problem’.
    You probably have the same state inspectors and auditors who have visited this plant over the years. Sure they write down a few things to show that they are working, god forbid something happens and you have a clean bill of health. But not of these entries ever goes over the top (as they should have). Is there corrective action to those points and follow-up by the inspectors…doesn’t seem likely. The ole boy network was at work and failed to make the right demands on the plant. Corporate ownership hears about the good inspections and goes on believing that they have a good facility. Incentives are given to the plant and they go on with the ruse, doing what they need to do to keep people working and not adding extra cost to their tight budget. (We are talking about a small corporation here, $20 million or so…probably not a lot left for capital improvements after ownership takes their cut.)
    Systems need to be challenged, both internally through internal audits and externally through government inspections and by a second or third party audit. Regular training is needed throughout, from corporate and plant personnel through to the government inspectors and third party auditors. HACCP must be mandatory for all plants, and an active, valid system of verification must be in place. This verification includes product and environmental testing programs. (If there is mandatory HACCP, this verification data will then be available to the inspectors).
    Did these folks knowingly hurt people…..I don’t think so. I just don’t think they knew any better and there wasn’t anyone who was willing to tell them otherwise.
    Whatever new legislation is proposed…mandatory HACCP and food safety training must be part of it.

  • Brad

    Sorry Bucknavage I disagree – First my take on the issue is that the President of PCA knew first hand what was going on and “crossed his fingers” when he told the plant to ship contaminated product. Second if the plan personnel though it was OK to ship salmonella laced product either they were incompetent and corp is responsible for putting incompetent people in charge or else they are negligent.
    I will agree that these folks did not knowingly kill people – but they knew people would get sick.

  • Damien

    These people knowingly sold unsafe food and therefore should be treated as criminals. The ‘official’ count is / was 9 deaths and no doubt there has been potentially more that have not been linked back to the contaminated products. Mandatory HACCP based food safety programs is a start, but understanding the risks associated with food and the consequences of getting wrong by ALL of staff – including the business decision makers is essential.