In a series of posts I picked apart the FDA's observations of the PCA plant. Assuming that the FDA's report is accurate (which PCA disputes), what does this show?
The report indicates that PCA had repeated positive tests for salmonella in multiple products over a fairly long period of time. The FDA also had positive salmonella swab tests in the plant. While the FDA's observations contain serious violations of good manufacturing practices they don't, to my way of thinking, account for the repeated positive tests. In the ConAgra recall, investigation eventually turned up a persisting source of ongoing contamination. Thus far no such source has been reported in the PCA plant.
Could just generally filthy conditions account for this level of contamination? I suppose it could, but conditions that bad should have gotten them shut down.
So, what went wrong with the inspection system? The plant had some previous issues on inspections, but they also received some decent ratings by inspectors from private agencies, and never seemed close to being shut down. My guess is that the plant actually didn't look that bad. The FDA's recent inspection paints a fairly shocking picture, but take out the salmonella testing findings and I guarantee you there are plenty of food plants (and restaurants!) operating as I write that have worse conditions than those cited. (Let alone conditions in foreign plants that export to the US.)
I think that the source of the ongoing contamination was more subtle than just general nastiness. (One possibility would be mis-handling of product re-work and scrap. Once salmonella is present in the lines, consistent improper handling of re-work and scrap could continually re-introduce salmonella into the system downstream from the roasters.)
I haven't seen anything in press reports or in the FDA's report to suggest that there was a continuing source of contamination, let alone what that source could be . But I also don't think that the FDA's initial findings come close to identifying a root cause for this outbreak.