Jeff Koeze's Blog Good Food, Good Business, and the Good Food Business

25Feb/090

Just When I Thought the PCA Story Couldn’t Get Any Weirder

This morning the press is reporting that the same salmonella strain that caused the initial outbreak has been isolated from peanut butter made from peanuts that were shipped from the Texas plant.  The same strain from Georgia and from Texas?

From the AP story:

An opened container of Vitamin Cottage peanut butter tested positive for the outbreak strain, which came from a Colorado resident who got sick, company vice president Heather Isely has said. Earlier, the same strain of salmonella bacteria was detected in containers of peanut butter that had been produced at a Peanut Corp. plant in Blakely, Ga.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration spokeswoman Stephanie Kwisnek said two samples of Vitamin Cottage peanut butter from two different consumers tested positive for the outbreak strain, but it was not clear how many containers were involved.

It's possible the Vitamin Cottage peanut butter was contaminated after it was opened, health officials noted. But the latest test results raise questions about how many of the outbreak illnesses — which have been attributed to the Blakely plant — came from other production facilities.

"Because of the public health risk posed by positive findings of salmonella associated with the outbreak strain at PCA's plant in Blakely, Ga., the FDA expanded its scope of inspections to include other PCA plants," said FDA spokeswoman Stephanie Kwisnek.

And from The Dallas Morning News:

Doug McBride, a spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services, said peanut meal at the plant in Plainview, about 50 miles north of Lubbock, was sampled Feb. 12 and tested positive last weekend.

"Our lab determined that it is the outbreak strain of typhimurium," McBride said. "We don't know what that means yet."

However, the fact the identical salmonella strain was found at both plants, more than 1,100 miles apart, suggests a cross-contamination of their product lines, health officials said.

Health officials are looking for some kind of link between the two plants.

Once again, putting on my wild speculation hat, I don't think they will find one.   I can think of no reason to ship product from one plant to  the other.  If press reports are correct, both had the capacity to roast, package, and granulate.  And freight, especially in less-than-truckload amounts, would be prohibitively expensive, I'd think.

I'm back to one of my original how did this happen? thoughts -- that these peanuts were purchased already roasted from somewhere and shipped directly to the two plants.

In the meantime, I'll be watching the CDC site to see if they post an update on the strains.

UPDATE:  Another thought.  Although the Virginia plant has not been implicated, it is at least possible that roasted nuts were shipped from Tidewater Blanching to the other two plants.  Financially, I can't see that making sense, but at this point, who knows?

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