- The Washington Times - Friday, February 13, 2009

DALLAS (AP) | Texas health officials ordered the recall Thursday of peanut products from a plant operated by the company at the center of a national salmonella outbreak, days after tests indicated the likely presence of the bacterium there.

Peanut Corp. of America was ordered to recall all products ever shipped from its plant in Plainview after the Texas Department of State Health Services said it found dead rodents, rodent excrement and bird feathers in a crawl space above a production area on Wednesday.

Health department spokesman Doug McBride said it was up to Peanut Corp. to inform its clients across the country of the recall.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the company was complying. Phone messages seeking comment from the company weren’t returned, and no information regarding the Texas action was posted on the company’s site.

However, even before the order, many customers of the Texas plant that sold mainly to manufacturers said they had begun holding back products, pulling them from shelves or running their own tests.

The order regarding the plant, which operated unlicensed and uninspected for nearly four years, is the latest bad news for the company being investigated in connection with an outbreak that has sickened more than 600 people and may have caused at least nine deaths. More than 2,000 possibly contaminated consumer items have been pulled from shelves in one of the largest product recalls ever.

Federal investigators last month identified a Georgia peanut processing plant operated by Peanut Corp. as the source of the salmonella outbreak.

Texas inspectors also found that the air-handling system was pulling debris from the infested crawl space into production areas at the Plainview plant that processed dry roasted peanuts, peanut meal and granulated peanuts. The plant, which voluntarily closed Monday, also was ordered by the state to stop producing and distributing food products.

Private lab tests returned Monday showed likely salmonella contamination at the plant, which opened in March 2005, but officials said it didn’t appear that the potentially tainted products from the lots that were tested made it to consumers. Further testing was needed to confirm the results, but the health department said Thursday that their orders are not contingent on finding salmonella.

The plant in Plainview, located in the Texas Panhandle, was run by a Peanut Corp. subsidiary, Plainview Peanut Co. It was not inspected by state health officials until after problems arose at the Georgia plant.

Kenneth Kendrick, who worked as an assistant manager at the plant for several months in 2006, said Thursday that he had sent several e-mails to the state health department while he worked there.

He said his complaints included a leaking roof, which he knew could be a problem because of bird excrement.

“Anything nasty you can think of comes from water off a roof,” said Mr. Kendrick, who said he left the plant voluntarily.

The federal government has opened a criminal investigation into the company, and its president, Stewart Parnell, repeatedly refused to answer questions Wednesday before the House Energy and Commerce investigations subcommittee, which is seeking ways to prevent another outbreak.

Many companies hadn’t waited for state or federal officials to take action. Robert Grauer, president of In a Nut Shell, of San Leandro, Calif., said his company decided to hold back about 200 cases of peanuts from the Texas plant before the order was issued.

“We’re not going to take a chance risking our customers - not over some peanuts,” he said.

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