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The Peanut Corporation of America has filed for bankruptcy. It's the company at the center of the nationwide salmonella outbreak that sickened hundreds of people. The outbreak is also linked to nine deaths.
Last night, Texas health officials ordered the company's plant in Plainview, Texas, to stay closed. They also ordered a recall of all products ever produced at that plant after finding filthy conditions there.
More now from NPR's Kathy Lohr.
KATHY LOHR: An in-depth inspection found disturbing conditions at the Texas plant. In addition to dead rodents, excrement and bird feathers in a crawl space, Doug McBride with the Texas Department of State Health Services says the plant's ventilation system was causing problems.
Mr. DOUG MCBRIDE (Texas Department of State Health Services): We also discovered an air-handling system that was not completely sealed and was pulling debris from that infested crawl space into production areas of the plant.
LOHR: The Texas operation, which opened in March 2005, came under scrutiny after the company's Georgia plant was linked to the recent salmonella outbreak. After filing for bankruptcy today, the company's attorney says the filing was regrettable but inevitable.
Among the problems, the company's Texas plant never applied for a license, and so had never been inspected by the state until last month. There are 42 inspectors and 21,000 food manufacturers in Texas. And Doug McBride says that makes it tough to find those that don't comply.
Mr. MCBRIDE: It's a big state. We don't have time to be detectives a lot of times. It's kind of like a driver's license; the burden is on the company to get in compliance with any local, state and federal regulations.
LOHR: Now, the Texas plant that distributed roasted peanuts, peanut meal and granulated peanuts must begin a recall of all products ever produced there. The volume is unknown, but McBride says the plant sold products to around 100 manufacturers. Some 2,000 products linked to the Georgia plant have already been recalled. This second recall will take some time, according to Dr. Michael Hansen with Consumers Union.
Dr. MICHAEL HANSEN (Senior Staff Scientist, Consumers Union): They just have to first find all the people that the company sold to, and then you go to those companies, and then you find all the folks that those companies sold to, and on down the line. So, the potential number of products we're talking about is very large.
LOHR: Hansen, a senior scientist, says he's concerned about the Peanut Corporation's Virginia plant, where, in the past, state inspectors found mouse droppings and a live bird in the warehouse. The FDA inspected that plant last month but found no violations. Hansen says consumers must pay attention to what they eat.
Dr. HANSEN: They should be very worried. They should basically avoid peanut butter products unless they know that they do not come from a potentially contaminated source.
LOHR: Hansen stresses the recall does not affect national peanut butter brands in jars. But a Harvard survey released today shows that while most consumers know about the outbreak, most do not know which products are involved in the recall.
Director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia Michael Doyle says most companies do not operate the way the Peanut Corporation of America did. And he says more stringent efforts by the CDC and states made it possible to track the source of the contamination.
Mr. MICHAEL DOYLE (Director, University of Georgia Center for Food Safety): The surveillance system that is in place now for detecting food-borne outbreaks has been evolving, and it's now gotten so good that these outbreaks, they're now being detected.
LOHR: Still, Doyle says the incident highlights what he calls gaping holes in the country's food-safety net.
Kathy Lohr, NPR News.
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