Inspection reports of a Georgia peanut processing plant at the center of a massive, nationwide salmonella outbreak indicate that the company operated in unsanitary conditions and knowingly shipped products contaminated with strains of salmonella.
So far, more than 500 people in 43 states have become ill because of the outbreak. In response, the Food and Drug Administration has ordered one of the largest food recalls in history, asking the public to throw out every product made by the Peanut Corporation of America over the past two years. The Lynchburg, Va.-based company knowingly shipped out salmonella-laced products at least a dozen times in 2007 and 2008, authorities say; at least one congressman has asked for a criminal investigation by the Justice Department.
Among the highlights of the reports released yesterday:
- A sink in one of the peanut butter rooms was used interchangeably to clean hands and utensils and to wash out mops.
- The "wash room" was found to be a veritable horror show of problems: a "slimy, black-brown residue," identified as mold, was found on a conveyor and on the walls; a live cockroach and several of his dead compatriots were also discovered.
- The company's cooler room also had mold on the ceiling and walls. Inspectors spotted water stains leading down to where finished product was stored.
- An ingredient staging area was found "dirty with a heavy build-up of different powdery ingredients on all exposed surfaces.''
- The lack of a ventilation system at the facility allowed for contamination to occur and officials did not check the effectiveness of temperature, volume and belt speed during the peanut roasting process.
- Bacteria-laden raw peanuts were stored next to roasted peanuts, increasing the risk of contamination, and peanut products were stored next to salmonella-contaminated floors and cracks.