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WASHINGTON -- In one of the largest food recalls in history, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this week asked retailers, manufacturers and consumers to discard every product made in the last two years from peanuts processed by a Georgia plant at the heart of a deadly nationwide outbreak of salmonella illness.
Federal officials discovered this month that Peanut Corp. of America shipped products 12 times in 2007 and 2008 contaminated with salmonella bacteria, prompting calls by Congress for legislation and a criminal investigation by the Justice Department.
The FDA also released results of its recent inspections, which it made after it had traced the outbreak to the plant in Blakely, Ga. Federal investigators documented unsanitary conditions, including mold growing on a ceiling, rainwater leaking into the production area from skylights, gaps in the building where rodents could enter, dead roaches and inadequate ventilation, The Washington Post reported.
Michael Rogers of the FDA said that Peanut Corp. of America violated good manufacturing practices by selling peanut products that tested positive for salmonella bacteria in inspections commissioned by the firm. When the products tested positive, the company commissioned another round of testing. If those tests came up clean, the products were shipped, the report stated.
Rogers said the company turned over records of its inspections only after the FDA invoked special authority given to it by Congress in 2002 under laws to prevent bioterrorism. He would not say whether the company would face sanctions.
A spokesman for Peanut Corp. of America, based in Lynchburg, Va., has said the company complied with all requests by regulators from "Day One" of their investigation.
"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," the company's president, Stewart Parnell, said in a statement this week.
The company also said that its goal "over the past 33 years has always been to follow the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's good manufacturing practices in order to provide a safe product for consumers."
The company's plant in Blakely produces peanut butter, paste, meal and granules that are used in products including ice cream, snack crackers and dog biscuits. Since early this month, when federal investigators traced the salmonella contamination to the plant, more than 400 products made with peanut butter or paste from the facility have been recalled. They represented products made with peanut ingredients handled by the plant since July 1, according to the report.
But this week's move expands the recall to all peanut products from the Blakely plant since Jan. 1, 2007. Federal officials said they do not know how many consumer products will be affected.
"We don't have a good idea right now in terms of how much of that product is still out there; it may have largely been consumed," said Stephen Sundlof, director of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.
The outbreak of salmonella illness, which began in late summer and is ongoing, has been linked to eight deaths. In all, about 500 people in 43 states and Canada have become ill.
Health officials said they will work with companies supplied by Peanut Corp. of America to continually update a recall list on the FDA Web site. To learn which peanut butter products have been recalled, visit www.fda.gov or call the CDC's 24-hour hot line, (800) CDC-INFO.