26 March 2009

The Peanut Problem

Salmonella. A dirty, insidious disease - it didn't care if you are eating $10 a jar fancy hand ground peanut butter or snacking on a package of Austins Peanut Butter Crackers. At least that was the case over the last few months. Over 700 people have been sickened. At least 8 have died across the country. Why? Because a company made a conscious decision to release products on the market that could be contaminated.

When the story first broke most everyone thought this was just a horrible accident. However, soon it came to light that this story had a clear villain. Stewart Parnell of the Peanut Corporation of America in Blakely, Georgia. Mr. Parnell disregarded time tested safe-guards in favor of more production.

"Stewart Parnell hailed from Lynchburg, Va., and had aspirations for his new acquisition. Workers wilted under pressure to produce.

“Under the old boss, we’d do 100,000 pounds [of nuts] a week and he’s happy,” said Bobby Mallard, 59, a production line supervisor with 17 years at the plant. “But Stewart ran a bigger operation. He preferred to get out 100,000 pounds a day.”

Parnell dispensed with filling small jars and cans, preferring 30-pound boxes that could be cranked out quickly. He added a granulation line, which produced small chopped nuts to be used as a topping or ingredient. And in 2004, the company heralded the introduction of its own peanut butter.

Producing larger volumes and more products, Peanut Corp. enticed food giants such as the Kellogg Co., Sara Lee and King Nut. Annual sales jumped 66 percent, from $15 million in 2005 to $25 million last year, according to business researchers Dun & Bradstreet."

Proper heating was not assured, cleaning was an afterthought, all that was important was filling more and more orders. Instead of destroying products that tested positive for Salmonella, it was common for the company to send out a separate sample.
"It’s not possible, however, to “retest away a positive result,” said Charles T. Deibel, president of Deibel Labs, one of at least two used by Peanut Corp. “If you tested 50 samples for a given lot and 49 of those were negative and one was positive,” Deibel said, “that one positive must trump the 49 negatives.”
Unfortunately, that's exactly what happened. On September 26th, 2008 a tanker truck filled with 45,000 pounds of contaminated peanut paste was unleashed on consumers and manufactures.

Today we find out that in addition to rodents, roaches and other disgusting stuff - the plant had a leaky roof.

"The leaky roof is suspect because there’s one thing needed most for salmonella to grow, spread and thrive: Water.

Some theorize that when it rained, water could have entered the plant and multiplied any existing salmonella or even introduced the salmonella into the plant.

“That is a likely culprit for the problem,” said Michael Hansen, a senior scientist at the watchdog group Consumers Union."

These are the people that we are trusting to create our food?

Photo Courtesy of the AP

Why is this man not in jail? Why is he not being prosecuted for knowingly endangering millions of us and killing eight? It seems to me that our country is very hesitant to bring criminal charges against business who make horrible decisions (Ford Pinto, anyone?).

The sooner we started holding some of these "business" men responsible for the havoc they cause, the better. Greed is not an admirable trait. Being rich at the expense of ethics is not something to aspire to. That's how we ended up in this mess.