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E-Mails Suggest Peanut Bosses Knew of Salmonella Contamination

POSTED: 11:59 AM ET, 02/11/2009 by Derek Kravitz

Updated at 1:15 p.m. Feb. 11

Stewart Parnell, the owner of Peanut Corp. of America, the Virginia-based firm behind a nationwide salmonella outbreak that has sickened 600 people and led to eight deaths, showed up on Capitol Hill today.

Ordered by subpoena to appear today at a House Committee on Energy and Commerce hearing, Parnell declined to answer lawmakers' questions "on advice of my counsel." After repeating the statement several times, he was dismissed from the hearing, The Associated Press reports.

Inspection reports indicate that Stewart's company, which makes only about 1 percent of U.S. peanut products but ships to many other food companies, operated in unsanitary conditions and knowingly shipped products contaminated with strains of salmonella.

In response, the Food and Drug Administration ordered one of the largest food recalls in history, asking the public to throw out every product made by the company over the past two years. Peanut Corp. knowingly shipped out salmonella-laced products at least a dozen times in 2007 and 2008, authorities say; the company is now under FBI investigation and a second facility in Planview, Texas, has been closed after similar health problems were reported.

Before today's hearing, entitled "The Salmonella Outbreak: The Continued Failure to Protect the Food Supply," was set to begin, the committee released a set of internal company documents, including e-mails, apparently showing that officials knew their product was tainted but shipped it anyway out of fear of losing sales.

The potentially most damaging piece of evidence is an e-mail exchange between Parnell and Sammy Lightsey, the Blakely, Ga., plant's operations manager. In it, Lightsey writes to Parnell on Sept. 29, 2008, that lab results showed a batch of peanut granules had tested positive for salmonella.

"Some of this product has been shipped...These customers need to be called and the product placed on HOLD until this can be cleared," he wrote.

On Oct. 6, Parnell replied: "We need to discuss this ....the time lapse , besides the cost is costing us huge $$$$$ and causing obviously a huge lapse in time from the time we pick up peanuts until the time we can invoice..."

Parnell goes on to say that the company needs to find out what its competitor, Jimbo's Jumbos Inc. of Edenton, N.C., is doing regarding salmonella outbreaks and "mimic" its policy. He also says that Peanut Corp. needs to "protect our self (sic) and the problem is that the tests absolutely give us no protection, just an indication at best..."

Lightsey is also slated to testify today (witness list).

By Derek Kravitz |  February 11, 2009; 11:59 AM ET
Previous: Banks on Offense Before House Hearing, FBI Probes Firms' Murtha Ties, Agent: Stevens Evidence Concealed | Next: Wall Street: 'We Are Sorry' for Meltdown

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This whole peanut scandal makes you think we live in a third world country. But as my wife points out, in a third world country the top two or three people would be shot to make an example.

Posted by: robert-in-oregon | February 11, 2009 6:26 PM

There was an internal memo that was circulated on the web that showed that Monsanto knew well ahead of time that the "Agent Orange" that they were produceing for the US Military was highly toxic and poisonous to human, but the entire military and the government "Watchdog" agency sat on their hands and watched and are still watching today as millions of Vietnam veterans and Vietnam Era vets, who served in the Blue Water Navy and the US Air Force, suffer and die from an array of pesticide and herbicide poisoning. This comes as no surprise to me. We are no longer a country of the people, but of the corporations. America is a victim of it's own greedy, unconscienced self.

Posted by: wgriff3245 | February 12, 2009 7:30 AM

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