The salmonella outbreak spawned one of the largest ever product recalls Wednesday by a Georgia peanut plant where federal inspectors reported finding roaches, mold, a leaking roof and other sanitary problems.
Managers at the Blakely, Ga. plant owned by Peanut Corp. of America continued shipping peanut products even after they were found to contain salmonella.
Peanut Corp. expanded its recall Wednesday to all peanut products produced at the plant since Jan. 1, 2007. The company is relatively small, but its peanut paste is an ingredient in hundreds of other items, including ice cream, Asian-style sauces and dog biscuits. Major national brands of peanut butter are not affected.
A senior lawmaker in Congress and Georgia's agriculture commissioner called for a criminal investigation of the company, but the Food and Drug Administration said such a step is premature while its own food safety investigation continues.
More than 500 people have gotten sick in the outbreak and at least eight may have died as a result of salmonella infection. At least six cases have been reported to N.C. health officials.
More than 400 products have already been recalled. The plant has stopped all production.
“We feel very confident that it's one of the largest recalls we've had,” said Stephen Sundlof, head of the FDA's food safety center. “We're still in the process of identifying products, but it certainly is among the largest.”
Most of the older products recalled Wednesday probably have been eaten already. Officials said they were seeing no signs of any earlier outbreaks that might be linked to the plant.
There was no immediate response from Peanut Corp., which has said it is cooperating with the investigation.
Salmonella had been found previously at least 12 times in products made at the plant, but production lines were never cleaned up after internal tests indicated contamination, FDA inspectors said in a report. Products that initially tested positive were retested. When the company got a negative reading, it shipped the products out.
That happened as recently as September. A month later, health officials started picking up signals of the outbreak.
The FDA inspection report is preliminary, and the agency said the findings do not represent a final judgment on the company's compliance with food safety laws and regulations.