This column was to be about emerging technologies that could enhance food safety, but in light of the international recall of peanut products processed by the Peanut Corporation of American (PCA) at its Blakely Ga. plant, I wanted to write about this matter as it has implications for many businesses and organizations beyond PCA.
As of Feb. 5, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspectors auditing PCA have reported 10 disturbing observations:
- “Failure to manufacture foods under conditions and controls necessary to minimize the potential for growth of microorganisms and contamination.” According to the FDA, PCA shipped product that had tested positive for Salmonella before retesting. FDA reports also show that PCA had ongoing problems with Salmonella since 2007. From the other observations it appears that little, if anything, was done to address the issue.
- “Failure to maintain equipment, containers and utensils used to convey, hold and store food in a manner that protects against contamination.”
- “Failure to perform mechanical manufacturing steps as to protect food from contamination.”
- “Failure to store finished food under conditions that would protect against microbial contamination.”
- “The plant is not constructed in such a manner as to allow ceilings to be kept in good repair.”
- “The design of equipment and utensils fails to preclude the adulteration of food with contaminants.”
- “Proper precautions to protect food and food-contact surfaces from contamination with micro-organisms cannot be taken because of deficiencies in plant construction and design.”
- “Devices and fixtures are not designed and constructed to protect against recontamination of clean, sanitized hands.”
- “Failure to conduct cleaning and sanitizing operations for utensils and equipment in a manner that protects against the contamination of food.”
- “Effective measures are not taken to protect against the contamination of food on the premises by pests.”
I am sure that even the most ardent free enterprise champions are asking how PCA ever got into and stayed in business. This a good example of what can happen when a corporation plays by its own rules, when regulatory agency programs fail at the primary and secondary levels, and when customers fail to audit their suppliers. Processors, suppliers, regulators and food retailers can all learn something from this – this should not have happened and was preventable.