There is lots of great food safety stuff happening that deserves comment, but I'm out at the big natural & organic food show trying to make a living -- selling peanut butter, of all things.
In a post a couple weeks ago describing my company's reaction to the initial PCA disaster, I reported my thoughts at the time:
But now we had a second recall in two years. Had something changed in the peanut supply chain -- practices in the peanut fields, in the shelling process, in the heat resistance of salmonella? -- that meant that industry practices which had previously prevented illness were no longer effective? Was general nastiness in the PCA plant enough to explain to their problems? (Maybe, but I have my doubts.) If it is general nastiness, why was the FDA considering moving peanut butter to the "high risk"category? Political cover? Or do they share some of my questions? (Emphasis added.)
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported yesterday that officials at the FDA shared some of my questions:
The FDA is examining peanut shelling operations that supplied raw peanuts to the Blakely plant, an official with the agency said. Depending on what they find, they’ll look at farms that supplied peanuts to the shellers.
According to the paper, the FDA is looking beyond conditions in the PCA plants to practices at the shellers, and ultimately in the fields, because the strain of salmonella found in one unopened jar of PCA-produced peanut butter is a genetic match to the same salmonella that was implicated in the Peter Pan recall two years ago. This suggests a source upstream from the two plants.
And, if the FDA finds problems upstream, we have to ask what this means for the scope of the current recall?
The FDA has updated its narrative account of the PCA crisis to focus on the recall from the Plainview, TX plant, including the following:
The Texas DSHS is currently notifying all first-level customers of PCA Texas products from January 1, 2007 forward that all products are subject to recall. FDA will audit 100 percent of those PCA customers to facilitate the removal of product from the marketplace.
There are several recall notices already posted on the FDA website, and many more press releases out on the web that haven't been posted to the FDA site.
Few have noted that the FDA field staff which is carrying out these recall audits is exactly the same staff responsible for routine inspections and other investigations. State inspectors are also contributing to the follow-up work, based on a couple of conversations I've had with field inspectors.
This is a vicious cycle -- the underfunded and overworked field staff is unable to conduct routine work in a way that might prevent a recall of this size, so the recall happens, pulling that staff for weeks on end away from routine work, so....
Meanwhile, the political classes and editorial writers yammer on and on about federal level reorganizations and a laundry list of other fairly useless "reforms."
Time for an FDA field staff surge. We can worry about rest later.